NASHVILLE -- Like a lot of former players who got their start with the Nashville Predators, Cody Franson spoke fondly Thursday of the team that selected him in the third round in the 2005 NHL Draft (No. 79) and with which he began his NHL career.
The 26-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman shares a special bond not only with the organization, but with its captain, Shea Weber. Weber and Franson grew up three houses apart in Sicamous, British Columbia, and have been close ever since.
"He was always a guy that I looked up to," Franson said of Weber. "He was doing what I wanted to do. He played for the [Kelowna] Rockets when I wanted to play in the [Western Hockey League]. He played in the World Junior [Championship] when I wanted to play in the World Juniors. He was a guy who was always doing the exact same things I wanted to do and he was always a guy I could talk to when it came time for me to be able to do that kind of stuff.
"He's always been there for me. He's a great friend. He took me under his wing when I first started and I can't thank him enough for that."
For his part, Weber, a two-time Norris Trophy finalist, sounded as if Franson were one of his closest friends in hockey. Weber, 28, said that he and Franson talk "quite often."
"We keep in touch," Weber said. "…We hear about what each other are doing quite often. Definitely, just see what's going on with each other every couple of days."
Franson served as a sixth defenseman and power-play specialist with a big shot for Nashville at the end his tenure here. He was not the kind of player the Predators wanted to part with, but that was the price that the organization had to pay to get Toronto to take the contract of center Matthew Lombardi, a player with a long concussion history with whom Nashville wanted to part ways. Lombardi played two games with Nashville in 2010-11 before missing the rest of the season with a head injury.
Franson said he was at Colgate University at the wedding of Mark Dekanich, a former goalie in the Predators organization, when he learned the news of his trade. The next day at 10 a.m., Predators general manager David Poile called Franson to inform him of the deal.
"So it was a shock, but that's part of the game," Franson said. "It's a business and they had to do what they had to do."
Franson wouldn't call it disappointing, but he did say he got attached to Nashville and that his time playing with Weber was "special." On the positive side, he grew up a Maple Leafs fan, saying his earliest baby pictures show him in their garb.
"Fortunately for me it was a place I always dreamed of playing," he said. "There are two ways you can look at it."
Franson averaged 15:10 per game in time on ice in his final season with the Predators. In Toronto, he has flourished with his time on ice average increasing to 16:11 in his first season to 18:47 last season to 23:52 in the first four games this season. He also has two assists and an even plus/minus rating.
Franson's 29 points last season ranked eighth in the League among defensemen and was one more than Weber, as Toronto earned its first Stanley Cup Playoff berth in nine years while Nashville failed to qualify for only the second time in the previous nine seasons.
Weber said he was glad to see his friend and former teammate succeed.
"Without a doubt, he's had a tough go," Weber said, a reference to a difficult contract negotiation that Franson went through during the preseason. "He's been through a lot. Glad to see him do well in the playoffs last year and during the season too. He had a great year. So far he's had a good start. Hopefully he can keep things going. It's always good to see him doing well."