14 goals, 13 games. Six game-winning goals. This was the stretch of hockey 27-year old Johan Franzen was playing in March of 2008, officially bursting onto the scene in a big way in his third season. After a February that saw the team have its worst stretch in years going 4-8-2, the lift Franzen brought helped the team go 10-2-1 the next month, bringing life back to normal in Hockeytown en route to another Presidents’ Trophy.
He would add 13 more in the postseason, scoring at one point nine goals in a four-game sweep of the Avalanche, including two hat tricks in that span. The Wings would eventually go on to win the Stanley Cup over Pittsburgh, but in that journey, Franzen suffered a head injury apparently from a punch to the head by Penguins forward Gary Roberts in Game 2. He would play on and hoist the Cup along with his teammates. Close to a year later, he would cash in with an 11-year, $43.5 extension, paying him $3.95 million per season after a 34-goal campaign in ’08-09.
Fast forward to 2015. Franzen, now 35, has amassed “double-digit” head injuries, the latest from Oilers forward Rob Klinkhammer on a blindside hit in January. He has eclipsed 25 goals twice since that 2008-09 campaign, and has not accomplished that feat in three seasons(14 goals in 2013 lockout-shortened season). More importantly, Franzen has played 87 games the past two seasons, scoring 23 goals and 63 points. His playoff numbers have also taken a turn, as after his legendary tear of 25 playoff goals in two playoff years, he has scored just 13 goals in his last 44 contests since. The reason for his absence? Concussions.
This past season was the worst it ever got for the Swede. A year removed from missing the chance to play for his home country for Sweden in Sochi due to, you guessed it, head injuries, Franzen couldn’t even get up to play with his kids.
“To see the disappointment in their eyes when (they ask), ‘Dad, why can’t you play with us?’ It breaks your heart. It’s a lot better now. Now I can do all that stuff, and it feels really good.”
He played just 33 games, none in the seven-game series loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning this past playoffs. It seems like it is a career of what could have been that has now become dangerous to continue, but in the present day, mule’s trying to give one more kick despite it all.
Per general manager Ken Holland, Johan Franzen cleared to play for the #DetroitRedWings. Hasn’t played since 4th head injury in January.
— Helene St. James (@HeleneStJames) September 12, 2015
Still armed with a powerful shot, Franzen if put in the right situations under Jeff Blashill, could be used effectively. But, the Wings have a surplus forward lineup with young players inching to get more of an opportunity, a la Tomas Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen, maybe even Anthony Mantha. Heck, you could put Mitch Callahan in that mix too. If Mule is going to play on a consistent basis, not only will he have to stay healthy, but he’ll have to earn his new coach’s trust along with the rest of the veterans as Blashill pointed out before camp.
Now, I do not fault Franzen for trying to go out on his own terms, but the game is getting faster every single season. Faster players, faster pace, faster hits. Even with top nine/bottom six minutes, on any shift, it could quite possibly be Franzen’s last of his career. Life after hockey is nearing closer and closer for #93, and it would be a hell of a story if he could turn in a solid season after all he’s went through. But, at the same time, it’s one season and one year of a long life that Franzen still has ahead of him with his wife and two sons.
Stats courtesy of hockey reference, hockey db.
Quote courtesy of Detroit Free Press
Twitter Quote Courtesy of @HeleneStJames