Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ November turnaround has been driven largely by goaltending, though special teams play and the surprising sturdiness of Toronto’s first line have also been major contributors.
Driving the bus in all of these areas are goaltender James Reimer and first-line centre Nazem Kadri, both pending free agents (Kadri will be restricted, Reimer will hit the open market).
Reimer and Kadri are 25 and 27 respectively, so they’re young enough to project as being, perhaps, contributing pieces on a future contending iteration of the Maple Leafs. Though both players have performed very well for the Maple Leafs, the club has yet to reach out to their representatives to discuss the possibility of a contract extension, according to a report from Sportsnet’s Damien Cox.
“Nothing has been decided,” Cox wrote on Thursday of Reimer and Kadri’s situations, “and there are no contract talks as of yet with either player or their representatives.”
Now, of course, this detail is interesting, but it’s not worth your panic or consternation. Kadri is on a one-year deal and is ineligible to sign an extension prior to January 1, and anyway there is plenty of time remaining prior to July 1 to work out extensions with these two popular Maple Leafs players if the club elects to do so.
That’s especially true of Kadri, who has arbitration rights, and to whom the Maple Leafs can extend a qualifying offer, which would preserve the club’s right of first refusal.
One thing that Kadri and Reimer have in common – despite facing different types of free agency, and playing totally different positions – is that working out a team-friendly valuation of their contributions could prove a bit complicated. Reimer has been dynamite, and for years has been a decent bet to provide his teams with above average quality goaltending. He’s been inconsistent, though, and has still yet to start 40 games in a season. I’d think it’ll be hard for his agent to argue that he’s even a credible 1B-type goaltender.
And complicating things further, of course, is Jonathan Bernier’s situation. Bernier is signed through next season with a cap hit and salary above $4 million. The Maple Leafs have a good deal of flexibility under the salary cap’s upper limit, but it’s hard to imagine the super progressive Shanahan regime rolling with a goalie tandem that costs more than $7.5 million combined against the salary cap.
Kadri, meanwhile, has radically altered his game to become a shoot-first type centreman rather than a pure distributor. The peripheral numbers would suggest that Kadri’s evolution has been a massive success, but the counting stats haven’t followed (yet).
I wouldn’t count on the low number of points Kadri has recorded so far – even if it persists throughout the course of the reason – to neuter his negotiating leverage. Even if his case is heard by a third-party arbiter, Kadri’s camp will be able to point to some very easy-to-understand statistics as proof of his value: like how he’s leading all Maple Leafs forward in ice time by more than 30 second per game and how he’s near the top of the league in shots on goal.
There should be little doubt that Kadri’s remaining restricted seasons are worth close to $5 million, and his unrestricted seasons could be in the $6 million range.
As the season rolls along it’ll be fascinating to watch how these situations play out. If Reimer and Kadri can sustain the form they’ve shown so far, there’s no doubt that they’re going to get paid this summer. Whether or not it’s the Maple Leafs who ultimately open the vault for them, remains to be seen.
This post was edited after publication to include the detail that Kadri is ineligible to sign an extension prior to January 1.