UPDATE: Kadri has since reached a two-year deal worth $5.8 million with the Leafs.
After a summer of little agreement and idle threats (if you haven’t already heard, Nazem Kadri has no intention of attending camp without a new contract in place first), it appears that Kadri and the Toronto Maple Leafs are finally making progress on a new contract for the services of the restricted free agent.
It’s commonly believed that Kadri is seeking a long-term, big payoff contract along the lines of the one recently signed by New York Islanders centerman (and newly named captain) John Tavares while the Leafs prefer a short-term, low risk contract along the lines of the one recently signed by Montreal Canadiens defenceman P. K. Subban. While Kadri publicly denied this information over Twitter, it remains the only potential insight that we have on the stalled contract negotiations.
If the situation is looked at objectively, a short-term contract best suits the interests of both parties. Despite a breakout campaign last season, Kadri’s limited playing time in the NHL makes it difficult to gauge his true value. Here it must be remembered that Kadri never approached the point-per-game plateau until last season. Thus, the uneven trajectory of his numbers when taken on the whole should warrant some caution.
The last thing Toronto wants (and needs) to do is sign another player based on one year of solid production à la Jeff O’Neill and Jason Blake. It’s imperative that they show some caution and restraint this time.
A short-term contract would allow the Leafs to minimize the risk they take on Kadri. If he continues to perform at a high level, then they’ll reward him when the time’s appropriate. If his performance drops or evens out with his historical numbers, then the two sides can readjust accordingly.
In addition, a short-term deal would help the Leafs better manage their current position under the salary cap. They still need to resign Cody Franson and Phil Kessel will be looking for a major raise next off-season. These are priorities that the Leafs simply cannot ignore to secure the potential of Kadri.
For Kadri, a short-term deal would allow him to further improve his value. He needs to prove that he can put up big numbers consistently on a yearly basis and that he can handle a larger role on the team. Despite his brisk scoring pace, Kadri was limited in his playing time last season. He needs to show that he can thrive and survive when exposed to NHL opponents at greater length.
There’s a strong desire among many Leafs fans to reward Kadri for last season. He certainly surprised his critics by putting up a solid campaign, but he also struggled at times down the stretch and made a secondary (but appreciated) contribution during the playoffs.
Kadri is the author of his own future in Toronto. The big contracts and unrepentant fan appreciation will be there one day. He can easily establish a vaunted career in hockey’s biggest, greatest market. At the same time, if he forces the issue today, none of this may be possible tomorrow.
We’ve seen Kadri develop greater hockey smarts over the course of his short NHL career. It’s time for him to show some contract smarts as well.
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