Originally written on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 4/17/12

DETROIT - JUNE 12: Johan Franzen #93 of the Detroit Red Wings warms up before playing against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Seven of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on June 12, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
 Johan Franzen is a key part of the Detroit Red Wings team, although he has tended to be more of a playoff performer than regular season. But if Franzen stays healthy all season, what does that do for the Red Wings? NHLHS Correspondent Christina Roberts gives you some idea of what Franzen may bring to the table this season.   Johan Franzen is known to his Detroit Red Wings teammates and fans as The Mule. It was a name bestowed upon him by Steve Yzerman because the captain saw Franzen’s on-ice strength and how he used it so he wasn’t pushed around easily by opponents. In the book The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Detroit Red Wings: Heart-Pounding, Jaw-Dropping, and Gut-Wrenching Moments from Detroit Red Wings History by Ted Kulfan, there’s a wonderful quote from Franzen about his nickname: “‘It’s different,’ said Franzen of the tag, which isn’t exactly the most common nickname around. …’I like it. I was a little surprised at first, though. I wasn’t sure what a mule was.‘”
Obviously, a comic needed to be drawn to show what his train of thought probably was. (Yes, I sometimes draw hockey comics for fun. There will be more in the future, though they will be on the computer and not scanned in. And not as crummy, but still pretty crummy.) It’s a fun nickname, especially when you hear the national announcers call him “The Mule.” And it’s fairly fitting, too. Red Wings fans have come to hope every season that Franzen will perform to his full potential – or what we assume can be his full potential. But every season, he seems to go down with an  injury two weeks into the season…usually during a game against the Chicago Blackhawks. (It happened two seasons in a row…) Just take a look at how many games he’s played each season. The most was back in 2005-2006 when he played 80 of the 82 games in his rookie season with the Red Wings. The seasons after that, he was only in 69, 72, 71, 27, and 76 games. Yes, he was only out for six games last season, but he was so streaky, it didn’t really matter. He scored five goals in one game against the Ottawa Senators, and proceeded to not score for another twenty-some games. Talk about not showing up… So, four games into the season, with a healthy, physical, rearing-to-go Franzen on the second line, he already has two goals – both of them game-winners at that. Do Red Wings fans dare get their hopes up that this will be the season Franzen hits sixty, seventy points and/or thirty/forty goals? Right now, he has two goals and two assists, putting him on pace for 82 points this season, which would be a career high. But when are the “on pace for…” predictions even remotely close to what actually happens? And Franzen hasn’t played a game against Chicago yet. There’s always room for concern. With every Detroit sports team doing pretty dang well (the Tigers made it to the Conference Finals, and the Lions are 5-1 for this first time in pretty much forever), is it smart to get our hopes up for a terrific year from Franzen? Everything has been looking up sports-wise for this city…do we dare believe Franzen will stay healthy for all 82 games and be one of the offensive leaders on our team? And what if he does stay healthy? Red Wings fans wait with bated breath, wondering if The Mule will be able to hit sixty points, thirty goals, (forty goals?!), or end up petering out over the course of the season and only hitting twenty goals, maybe fifty points. There are so many questions that it can end up driving you crazy with how often you run around in circles trying to figure it out. If Franzen does stay consistent and hit career-high numbers this season, you can bet it will take a lot of pressure off of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. That’s not to say that any less will be expected of them, but more of the fact that opponents will have another offensive player to keep in check. Most teams in the Western Conference know to keep an eye on Franzen, but he’s been so streaky and/or injured that it hasn’t mattered much. But if he does stay consistent, you can be sure that the Red Wings opponents will always have a man or two on him every game, and maybe slack a little on Datsyuk and Zetterberg (Red Wings fans can only hope…) But then we need to dial it back and remember that it’s hockey. Anything can happen. For now, we sit and wait to see what each game will bring. Will Franzen be the player the organization (and fans) know he can be? Or will he fall to another early-season injury? As the band Asia would say, “Only time will tell.” Christina Roberts
NHLHS Detroit Red Wings Correspondent
Twitter: @franzenmuth
Email: christina.roberts@nhlhotstove.com
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