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Leafs Add Depth In Deal With Predators

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

RELATED: Lombardi Bio | Franson Bio | Audio: Conference Calls
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The Maple Leafs acquired two players from the Nashville Predators Sunday.

One, towering defenceman Cody Franson, has always dreamed of playing in Toronto.

The other, centre Matthew Lombardi, dreams of just getting to play.

In a move anticipated by absolutely no one, the Leafs added another defenceman who can play top four minutes even while their top two pairings, Keith Aulie with Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn with John-Michael Liles are already set.

The 23-year-old Franson played in 80 games with the Preds and scored eight times while adding 21 assists. He is six-foot four, about 230 pounds with better than average skating and touch for a big man. He shoots the puck very hard but like most tall defenceman is often accused of not taking advantage of his size.

“I want to be a guy they can count on in big situations and someone they can look to when we are down or need to hold a lead,” he said in the club’s conference call. “I want to hopefully play in the top four and put my best foot forward

Even in Salmon Arm, BC, Franson grew up a devoted Leafs fan.

“My first baby picture I was wearing a Wendel Clark jersey. My family and I are really excited about playing for the Maple Leafs.”

The trade came out of the blue.

“I had just talked to my agents and got their take,” he said. “They didn’t see me getting traded this summer.”

Franson seems to be the more immediate prize. The Leafs didn’t surrender much in either Lebda or Robert Slaney and Lombardi, a frenetic, tremendously speedy player, hasn’t played since sliding headfirst into the boards early last season.

He missed all but two games after the injury but the year before in Phoenix Lombardi scored 19 goals and added 34 assists. The 29-year-old Montrealer has 446 NHL games to his credit.

“This has been the toughest year of my life,” he said. “I was looking forward to following up the season I had in Phoenix. It didn’t work out but all I want to do is get back, put a Leafs jersey on and help."

His injury wasn’t caused by a hit, he tripped or was tripped but the angle of the fall sent Lombardi headfirst into the boards. Amazingly he went back into the game after the injury but the extent of the damage soon was made clear.

“The first four or five weeks were really hard. I really just stayed in the house and kept things pretty dark. I had trouble reading. I have come a long way since then. My everyday life is getting pretty close to normal. I have seen a lot of progress in the last two months. Obviously it has taken a long time but I am confident I am near the end. I am getting better.”

While he is shooting for training camp, Lombardi does not know when he will be back in the lineup. Nor does he know what will be expected of him should he get back.

“My game is a speed game. If and when I get back that’s what I will try to bring. I couldn’t tell you where I am going to fit in but I am looking forward to this opportunity.”

Preds GM David Poile explained his motivation in a release.

“Unfortunately, Matthew Lombardi's concussion last season and recovery left us uncertain about his ability to come back for this season, and that uncertainty has made it difficult for us to move forward, plan and develop our lineup,” Poile said in a statement. “We never like to give up young homegrown talent like Cody Franson, but we have to give up something in order to put ourselves in position to do other things to improve our team, which we are committed to doing between now and training camp.”

The move to Toronto allows the Predators to park Lombardi’s $3.5 million salary here but if he plays again, Lombardi will bring peerless skating skills and a sky-high compete level. He would be a sterling second or third line centre and an excellent back up should number one pivot Tim Connolly fall victim to injury.

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