Two days into the free agency signing period, the Nashville Predators paid a steep price in an attempt to improve their roster.
On Sunday, Nashville traded defenseman Cody Franson and injured center Matthew Lombardi to the Toronto Maple Leafs for veteran defenseman Brett Lebda and forward prospect Robert Slaney. One team also will receive a fourth-round pick from the other contingent on the contribution of Lombardi, who missed 80 games last season with a concussion and has not yet returned to health.
Niclas Begfors, a 24-year-old former first-round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils, agreed to a one-year $575,000 pact.
The 23rd overall selection in 2005 had 36 points (12 goals, 24 assists) with Atlanta and Florida last season. He had 21 goals and 23 assists between New Jersey and Atlanta in 2009-10, his first full NHL campaign.
“I’m excited to be coming to Toronto,” Franson said. “I’ve been a Leafs fan my whole life. In my first baby picture, I was wearing a Wendel Clark jersey. My whole family is going nuts right now.”
The Predators will get Toronto’s fourth-round pick in 2013 if Lombardi plays 60 games or more over the next two seasons. The Leafs will get Nashville’s fourth-round selection in 2013 if he does not play at least 60 games.
“My health is getting better,” Lombardi said. “Being positive, it’s getting better every week. It’s just been a long process – longer than I’d hoped for. The goal is to be ready for training camp. That’s what I’m hoping for.”
Lebda is an undersized (5-foot-9, 195 pounds) veteran of 367 NHL games, most of them with Detroit, where he was a member of the 2008 Stanley Cup champions. He played just 41 games for Toronto last season and had a career-low four points (one goal, three assists).
The 29-year-old has one year remaining on a contract that will play him $1.45 million this season.
Slaney is a 22-year-old who spent the majority of last season in the East Coast Hockey League, where he recorded 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 61 appearances.
Franson played 141 games over the past two seasons, including 80 in 2010-11, and scored 50 points (14 goals, 36 assists). Only Shea Weber and Ryan Suter had more points among Nashville blue liners over that period.
“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,” General Manager David Poile said. “We never like to give up young homegrown talent like Cody Franson, but 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.”