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During his first training camp with the Red Wings, winger Johan Franzen was given the nickname "Mule" by former captain Steve Yzerman due to his strong work ethic and burly size.
“He’s big and strong and he reminded me of a mule that day” Yzerman said.
However, in recent years many Red Wings fans have been wondering if that nickname still fits. Franzen has become notorious for being prone to hot and cold streaks. The latter have become far too common.
It wasn't always this way. Franzen scored a combined 22 goals in his first two seasons with Detroit, where he was used largely as a bottom-six winger and not relied upon for goals. But during the 2007-08 campaign, Franzen had his coming out party - scoring 15 goals in the final 16 games of the year for a total of 27. His torrid scoring pace continued in the playoffs, notably when he single-handedly outscored the entire Colorado Avalanche team during Detroit's sweep of their rival in the Western Semi-Finals. Soon, Franzen had a Stanley Cup ring.
It was the following season that Red Wings general manager Ken Holland decided to reward Franzen with a hefty new contract; 11 years, $43.5 million. Herein lies one of the issues Red Wings fans have - many feel that money should have gone towards re-signing forward Marian Hossa, who signed a larger deal with the rival Blackhawks following the 2009 playoffs.
Franzen would go on to record respectable numbers following his contract extension, scoring 28 and 29 goals in 2010-11 and 2011-12 respectively, (10 goals during an injury shortened 2009-10 season). Still, he began to gain the reputation as somewhat of a floater - waiting for the play to come to him, not skating as hard, and looking genuinely disinterested. There were heavy rumors of the Red Wings buying out his contract following a disappointing 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, during which Franzen had only two assists.
He's currently on injured reserve with a concussion. Before he went down, he had scored only two goals in his last 21 games; not exactly the kind of numbers a player being paid $5 million this season wants to have. There have also been rumors of the Red Wings possibly wanting to use Franzen as trade bait at this year's trade deadline.
Franzen has proven he can be a valuable asset, but his regular disappearing acts might lead to the "Mule" landing in a new barn.
(Image via Wikimedia.com)