The Leafs got a jump-start on trade frenzy two weeks before the March 2 deadline by sending Franson and Santorelli to the Nashville Predators for a first-round pick, forward prospect Brendan Leipsic and soon-to-be-free-agent centre Olli Jokinen. The offensive defenceman and versatile forward were set to be unrestricted free agents, and dealing them was the first inevitable step toward re-shaping the roster.
"We felt that we couldn't risk not getting something for them in the event that we couldn't re-sign them," general manager Dave Nonis said on a conference call Sunday. "It was important that we got some assets back. ... We feel that the pieces we got are good, they're quality pieces."
In exchange for their biggest trade chip, Franson, and Santorelli, who made the most of his one-year audition in Toronto, the Leafs get what's expected to be a late first-round pick and a young player in the 20-year-old Leipsic. The 36-year-old Jokinen could be flipped again to a contender.
The reeling Leafs are no longer that, 4-20-2 in their past 26 games and with a better chance of drafting first overall than making the playoffs. By March 2, pending free-agent forwards Daniel Winnik and David Booth could also get dealt, along with Jokinen and maybe others.
In Franson and Santorelli, Nonis chose to act quickly to maximize his return for two players who weren't coming back. Neither player was close to an extension, with Franson in particular on course for a big July 1 pay day.
"They talked about (contract) numbers that weren't necessarily outrageous given the market, but it just didn't fit for us at this point," Nonis said.
With 82 points, Nashville is atop the league, so the 2015 first-round pick is expected to be a late one, depending on the playoffs. In Leipsic, a 20-year-old Winnipeg, Man., native, the Leafs get a 2012 third-rounder to begin re-stocking on prospects.
"He's a gifted young man that's going to take some time," Nonis said. "We've got time with him. ... We'll try to bring him along slowly, but we like his upside in terms of his offensive ability and the way he competes."
Franson, who was on his second straight one-year contract with Toronto after a contract dispute in the summer of 2013, said last week there was no bad blood between he and the organization. Going into the season with free agency pending, the Sicamous, B.C., native knew getting traded was a possibility.
"It's a part of the business," Franson said Feb. 9. "At the end of the day it's a numbers game and they're going to make choices that they feel is best for the team."
Franson, 27, has six goals and 26 assists in 55 games this season, and those 32 points are tied for 18th among defencemen.
Santorelli, 29, had been enjoying a strong season on a similar one-year contract after some success under John Tortorella with the Vancouver Canucks in 2013-14. A shoulder injury ended that season, but he was healthy and producing in Toronto with 11 goals and 18 assists.
"Honestly I think my game's kind of taken a step forward since last year," Santorelli said last week. "Last year was definitely a big bounce-back year for me. I think I've carried it over and gotten better. That's the mind-set. I just want to keep getting better."
Santorelli had been playing with Winnik and impending restricted free-agent centre Nazem Kadri on the Leafs' new-look top line.
Predators general manager David Poile didn't want to wait until the deadline to get his team ready for the stretch run.
"In preparation for the 2015 playoff run, our goal was to add a veteran defenceman who could play in all situations and a proven forward who could move up and down lineup based on the situation," Poile said in a statement.
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