Nazem Kadri signs team-friendly contract

One day before camp, Nick Kypreos is the one to break the news:

That’s a hell of a price for the Maple Leafs. Dave Nonis was stone cold during this negotiation. It got a little messy, but he did what he had to do, and there may, just may be space to get Cody Franson under contract with the money the Leafs have left to spend. Here’s the official release from the club. Per Darren Dreger, the annual average value is $2.9-million, just slightly higher than Logan Couture’s bridge deal that wound up being a bargain for the San Jose Sharks.

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So now what? Two years is an excellent contract length, and just what the doctor ordered for the Leafs. Kadri lit the league on fire for the first 36 games of last season, and among players with 1000 minutes played in the last three seasons, or Kadri’s entire career, he is 15th in points per 60 minutes.

There’s a caveat there, of course. You look at the players with a comparable number of points and they’ve all played a zillion more games. Kadri has the 5th highest on-ice shooting percentage in the NHL over that small sample of minutes. While his numbers last year certainly fit the profile as a No. 1 centreman in the NHL, he has yet to “arrive” at the level enjoyed by Matt Duchene, Anze Kopitar or Sam Gagner, players with a similar point total. He has a lot to prove over the next two years, and we’ll specify just what in the coming days.

This looks good on Nonis. While we mocked him this summer, sometimes with reason, sometimes with not, Nonis stuck to his guns and convinced Kadri he wasn’t bigger than the team, and showed the world that it takes more than 36 games scoring guns ablazing to get a long-term deal as a restricted free agent. Nonis was always good in Vancouver at locking up his guys, and this summer he’s gotten every conceivable piece he targeted under contract save Franson.

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So Kadri will get a full NHL camp, and time to prepare with his purpoted new linemates David Clarkson and Joffrey Lupul. 

As I wrote at the beginning of the summer:

This is a litmus test for Nonis. I don’t think that Kadri is a player that you can expect to put up a point every second game, but I also don’t think that Kadri is a player that you can expect to put up a point a game. The answer, as always when dealing with two extremes, lies somewhere in between. He’s probably a 55 to 60-point guy going forward, which still puts him in the conversation among top-line centres in the NHL (and I do think he’s the guy the Leafs ought to have on their top line with Phil Kessel, regardless of what Tyler Bozak does).

A bridge contract, two years or so, wherein Kadri is a full-time NHL player for each year is in the interest of the Leafs however. It’s important to know exactly what they have before committing to a guy like Kadri, whose best moments in the NHL so far have been on sheltered third lines with a lot of offensive zone faceoffs and a high on-ice shooting percentage that is, unfortunately, unsustainable. Going the Edmonton route and giving him a long contract simply based on 36 games is a recipe for salary cap disaster.

Nonis stuck to his guns and won, and Nazem Kadri has a managable, risk-free, contract for two years. The Leafs will feel a bit of a crunch this season barring nobody being moved from the roster. Next season, with the cap going up well above $70-million, he’ll be a bargain price, particularly if he’s established himself as a top six forward by that point.

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And since the question does get asked:

A player needs seven NHL seasons, ten professional seasons, or to be age 27 on June 30 to qualify as an unrestricted free agent. Nazem Kadri will still be restricted in the summer of 2015, but he will be arbitration eligible.

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