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Franson Draws Into Lineup Tonight

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Look, I’ll get back to you on Clarke MacArthur’s thoughts about getting back into the lineup in a moment. Same goes with the state of Mike Brown’s groin injury.

Friday, I wrote about the experience of playing in Toronto. I studied the records of players who toiled on other NHL teams before coming and leaving the Leafs or players who broke into the league with Toronto and moved on.

You can find the story here.

You might have read about Cody Franson, scratched from the first two games of the season after he was acquired from Nashville.

Franson didn’t have a great camp but normally he could have taken his time adjusting to a new city and playing both sides. In Nashville, he played the left side and while that seems insignificant, the baseball equivalent isn’t moving from left field to right field. It’s more like switching from first base to third.

Naturally the media arrived. They asked how he felt.  Franson said he was disappointed and a little confused. They asked him if Ron Wilson had told him anything. He said no.

I don’t usually gripe about the media. I earned my living there for most of my career. I know every person and they are funny, inventive, people.  Their faults were bestowed on them using the same ratio as the rest of us. They are charged with finding something, anything to present as meaningful for a voracious, insatiable public. They usually must do it in the time it takes to nurse a smoke. It’s a great gig, but it’s not an easy one.

But the institution of the media can destroy what it purports to uphold.

That commodity is honesty.

When Franson answered a question honestly, as he was encouraged to do in Nashville, he set himself up. When a little blood hit the water, everyone else on the beat was obligated to follow. Voila, instant controversy.

The propane in this mini-fire was candor. Cody Franson was honest. You saw the result.

The day before, Wilson was called out for saying Franson would start on Saturday.  Why stir up the pot by revealing a lineup change and sentencing the kid to a week of questions.  Why be honest?

You need to know two things about this.

First, Ron Wilson doesn’t give a damn. He tucks this stuff away and later, when he isn’t overwhelmingly glib or forthcoming, someone will comment that he is being aloof. He can be aloof. He is old school. Almost like a guy with the most wins of any active coach. He believes his way works. That extends for how he handles the lineup and the questions that await him every single day.

“It’s been a long week,” Wilson said, Saturday morning.  “Only in Toronto could there be all this controversy when you’re 2-0.”

And then, Wilson, pro that he is, broke down the game to a crew that included Hockey Night In Canada commentators and out of towners from Calgary up early to get something before their team’s skate.

He talked about faceoffs and how an injury to Tyler Bozak has healed enough for him to resume last year’s pace of 55 per cent in the circle. He talked about how David Steckel uses one move to win a draw, a backhand sweep, and how the club needles Mikhail Grabovski because he could not get his faceoff percentage over 50 per cent. He explained that Grabovski was trying to get by on speed, which is his game, instead of strength, of which he possesses much.

He talked about what effect those three guys have on the team’s ability to feel confident with a critical in the Leaf end.

“We’re not thinking about what we have to do when we lose the faceoff but what we are going to do when we win,” he said.

He recalled his days with Adam Oates as his centre in Washington and Oates’ belief he could dominate anyone in the circle. And he could, with one exception.

“Oatsey could beat everybody but he couldn’t beat Eric Lindros,” Wilson said. “We had to have someone else for Lindros.”

Wilson admitted that he is as stunned as anyone else by Matt Lombardi’s ascension into the lineup after a year spent on the shelf via concussion.

“Before training camp I wasn’t expecting him to play until November-December,” Wilson said. “His comeback has been remarkable. He’s a good guy. I’m happy for him.”

Ron Wilson gave more in 10 minutes than Habs’ coach Jacques Martin has given his entire career.

The good news is you can look for lots more from Ron Wilson. Don’t expect a whole lot of candor from Cody Franson.

Now, on to Mike Brown’s groin.

Briefly: Jake Gardiner is out to make room for Franson. Matt Frattin drops down to a line with Matt Lombardi and Colby Armstrong. This marks Lombardi’s first start on the third line. MacArthur is back with Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin… Best line of the pre-skate scrum goes to James Reimer, a Manitoban who played in Alberta with Red Deer: “When you play in Alberta you have to choose either Calgary or Edmonton to root for. (Pause). I chose Edmonton.”…Rookie Frattin was unfazed by the routine of playing two games and resting for a week. “Reminds me of college,” he said. After missing two games via suspension, Clarke MacArthur vows to continue his reign of terror against the Flames. “I want to get into the game. Look for me to get a hit on my first shift,” he said. And yes, Brown’s groin injury has progressed. He isn’t free of pain, but he can do everything he has to do in a game. “That’s all I think about,” he said. “The rest will take care of itself.”
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