The lack of progress on the Nazem Kadri extension front has been making headlines in Toronto for surprisingly little time, given how important he seems to be to the Maple Leafs’ future plans.
Under normal circumstances — say, if Jonathan Bernier went this deep into the summer without a contract — the local papers would normally be delivered to subscribers’ homes literally on fire. That there has been no such uproar over Kadri’s situation comes as something of a surprise, but perhaps the Toronto media has been so satiated by the team’s acquisition of David Clarkson (the Prize Toronto-Born-And-Bred Free Agent for which they have been ravening for years) and retention of Tyler Bozak (All-Around Good Teammate (Who Also Sucks But Who’s Counting?)) that no one particularly cares that the team probably doesn’t have the cap space to sign Kadri, who you’ll recall was nearly a point-a-game player in the NHL at age 22.
The only thing thing that’s really caused any kind of an uproar in the past few days with relation to the ongoing talks was when he said, “The closer it comes to training camp, it becomes more and more of a distraction. I know I’m being pretty reasonable, taking cap into consideration, when really, that’s not my job.”
Again, under normal circumstances, this phenom high draft pick who was second on the team in scoring in his first full year in the NHL should have everyone in a furor, with talk-radio phone lines jammed by people screaming for Nonis’ head. Instead, Damien Cox of all people(!) is actually pleading for everyone to NOT get worked up, Steve Simmons is saying that Kadri’s confidence in his own abilities is what’s at issue here rather than greed, and Dave Shoalts is praising Nonis for being “patient.” What universe did we wake up in?
While it’s reasonable, on some level, for the Leafs to hold out on giving Kadri the big money and lengthy term he’s reportedly seeking — though he denies it — because, after all, it was a season in which the Leafs were exceptionally lucky, and Kadri was as well (1063 PDO, 16.8 personal shooting percentage). But the real reason the Leafs haven’t locked him up, one suspects, circles back around to the thing he said with respect to the salary cap and the Leafs’ lack of flexibility against it.
Let’s get one thing perfectly straight here: He’s right that worrying about the Leafs’ cap issues are not his job. However, the problem is that it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s job. Nonis entered his first offseason as Leafs GM armed with the confidence instilled in him by a first-round exit and about $25 million in Cap space (having been facilitated by the compliance buyouts of Mike Komisarek and Mikhail Grabovski, which rated as competent and complete crap, respectively), and had used 80 percent of it up by the end of July.
Extension for Colton Orr? Check. Trading for Bernier while retaining half a million dollars of Ben Scrivens’ salary, then giving the former an extension not commensurate with his previous performances? Check. Taking on Dave Bolland’s crazy contract after he couldn’t produce points alongside Patrick Kane? Check. Tyler Bozak an absurd if inevitable extension? Check. Re-signing Frazer McLaren for no reason? Check. Clarkson’s head-spinningly bad deal that he’ll be getting killed for a season and a half from now? Check and mate. All made without a single thought to how all these silly transactions might influence his ability to re-sign Kadri and Cody Franson, who himself is a pretty good, pretty young RFA defenseman.
As Chemmy from Pension Plan Puppets (and my partner at The Sleeping Giant) pointed out, it was like paying a lot of money for a vacation and then returning home to remember, “Ah yes, my landlord expects me to pay my rent.” Left unsaid, though, was that this was like taking a luxury vacation in Paterson, New Jersey. Sure, you paid a lot of money, but you certainly didn’t get your money’s worth.
And somehow this is a case of the Leafs being “patient” and wise in expecting Kadri to accept a short-term bridge deal? And not, perhaps, the result of their having spent so cavalierly that they are now forced into frugality when that kind of thing comes off as imprudent? Sure, that makes sense.
There has been some talk about the ways in which teams can be successful, and the ability of GMs to sign players to “hometown discount” deals seems central to that. Kadri is apparently being expected by the Leafs’ front office to do so now, when it has not insisted on anyone else — Bernier or Bozak or Orr or McLaren or Clarkson — to do the same. The fact of the matter is that Kadri doesn’t owe the Maple Leafs anything; that little axiom we hear all the time about hockey being “just a business” when a guy gets traded, that’s a two-way street. Kadri has every right, and in fact a responsibility to himself and whatever dependents he may have at some point in his life, to get as much money as possible every time out. If he wants to take a deal that helps the Leafs’ situation, then that’s his own lookout, and you can’t begrudge him, but if he doesn’t, he’s not being selfish in a way that is bad or wrong. His idea of self-worth, as Simmons notes, is indeed holding up the contract negotiations, because he’s not going to take less than market value (and “You can start with what Adam Henrique just got out of New Jersey and then go up, thanks very much,” is how all future negotiations should begin and end) for the good of a team that wouldn’t make the playoffs even if he improves on last year’s performance, which is unlikely.
This says nothing of the contract status of the forgotten Mr. Franson, most recently involved in trade rumors that would see him shipped, well, somewhere, in favor of added cap flexibility and probably a thinner defense than the Leafs’ already wan blue line. So too has the idea of shopping John-Michael Liles been kicked around, and not unreasonably. But the point is that it didn’t have to be this way. In fact, under any competent general manager, it shouldn’t, and probably wouldn’t.
Kadri is the best Leafs forward prospect to come along in a very long time, and now they’re trying to shortchange him and get him to take a team-friendly deal because they have no idea how to budget. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to Kadri, or me, but then we both seem to be rational human beings and therefore unqualified to be a members of the Maple Leafs front office.