Lost but not forgotten in the midst of the Leafs’ first quarter success is a couple of re-signings Brian Burke will have to tackle this off-season. Nikolai Kulemin is in the final year of a two year deal that has paid him just under $5 million, and Mikhail Grabovski in the final year of a three year deal that has paid him just under 9 million. Being two important cogs in the Leafs current assembly of top six forward for sure, it’s not inaccurate to say that Brian Burke has negotiating new contracts with the two forwards pretty high on his priority list.
Both player’s value to the team fluctuate from person to person, but the common notion among most is that both are valuable top-six forwards, a luxury the Leafs have not had the pleasure of too many recently.
Determining salaries is usually tough, because management could and most likely does rate and observe things differently from us from the outside, in their players. That’s why often you’ll see even the most senior analyst state that the so and so shouldn’t go over “X” amount of years or dollars because of this, this, and this, and then a week later, numbers get released that are way off the analyst’s projection. However, that doesn’t mean the analyst’s predictions don’t give us an idea of what to expect, and that’s why I aim to do here today – settle on an idea of how long and for how much Grabovski and Kulemin could stay in Toronto.
First, the comparable contracts from the past two years.
|Player – Age
|Contract Year Production
|Previous 3 years production
|D. Backes, 26
|31G – 62P
|M. Moulson, 27
|31G – 53P
|T. Plekanec, 27
|25G – 70P
|David Krejci, 23
|22G – 73P
|M. Lombardi, 28
|19G – 53P
|Tuomo Ruutu, 25
|26G – 54P
|C. MacArthur, 25
|21G – 62P
|Ryane Clowe, 27
|22G – 52P
|David Booth, 24
|31G – 60P
|David Krejci, 26
|13G – 62P
Something to note, all the above players’ production totals roughly averages out to about 26 goals, and 60 points. To gain a little perspective on how much goals = X amount of dollars, here’s Gabovski’s and Kulemin’s current statistic pace.
|Player – Age
|G’s – P’s
|On Pace for
|Mikhail Grabovski, 27
|7G – 12P – 21Games
|27G – 46P
|Nikolai Kulemin, 25
|2G – 11P – 26Games
|6G – 35P
Next, let’s analyze each of the player’s value in all aspects to their team now and going forward to get a rough number on what they could earn next season and for how long.
MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI’S NEXT CONTRACT
In terms of value, the Leafs would most likely throw out a first offer similar to David Krejci’s 2009 extension, which was worth 3.75 million per season. If Grabovski finishes with around 25G and 50P, Grabovski would most likely be inclined to ask for a contract in the range of David Krejci’s recent extension, a value of 5.25 million per season. After negotiation, Burke and Grabovski will most likely settle on a value eerily similar to what David Backes received this past off-season – 4.5 million, which is pretty fair. Most of the second line centers shown inked deals around 4 million per season, but considering currently, Grabovski is known as more of a 1B center to Connolly because of the lack of a true No.1, he’ll receive a little bump.
Term is a whole different ball-game. It’s well known Burke doesn’t hand out contracts longer than 5 years, and even those are only for players he deems to be part of his “core” (i.e. Kessel, Perry, Getzlaf). He’s said he isn’t opposed to going longer than 5, but the player would have to be very young and have franchise potential. Grabovski is neither. Nor is he considered a core player by Burke or anyone else related to the Leafs. He’s a 1B type center on the Leafs, a second line center on any other team, nothing more, nothing less. However, that doesn’t mean he’s not important to the club. We’ve seen how having unproductive forwards have plagued the Leafs the past 6 years, and now that Burke has more than a few under control, it’s easy to assume he’s not itching to let them go.
If Grabovski has a strong stance of getting a 4 or 5 year deal, Burke will let him walk. That type of term doesn’t make sense considering Toronto has Colborne, Kadri, McKegg, among others who will be ready to make the jump soon. And if you look at all the comparable contracts on the chart, with the exception of a few, most of them are 3-year deals, even David Krejci, who is widely known as Boston’s No.1 pivot and a core player. Also, just to note, many of the names above were about 25 years old receiving higher than 3 year deals. Grabovski is going on 28. Thus, factoring in all we know – he’s not a core piece, just a productive No.2 center and Toronto has numerous prospects close to being ready – he won’t get much better than 3 years from Burke. And even that might be a stretch.
However, I think he’ll get a 3 year deal, and I think it’ll be valued at a total of 13.5 million. And I think he’ll accept, as that offer is pretty enticing to a forward who’s never made more than 2.9 per yet.
NIKOLAI KULEMIN’S NEXT CONTRACT
Taking on the task of predicting Nikolai Kulemin’s next contract, as everything currently stands, is extremely tough. That is because he is currently on pace for 6 goals and 35 points. If you want to look at more numbers, Kulemin is being paid 2.35 million this season – third line money. He’s on pace for third line numbers. He’s even been receiving third line minutes as of late. So does Burke offer him some more third line money? That’s where the discussion gets all fuzzy.
My personal belief is that one way or another, at the very least; Kulemin will be a Leaf next season. How much he’s being paid to play is contingent on a few “if” scenarios. The first: if Kulemin continues his current pace, he won’t get much better than 3 million, with Matt Moulson’s contract being quite comparable (but only because his salary is a bargain). And that’s really based on just some common food for thought, as no one compares to a 35 point Kulemin up above. He’ll get 3 million in this scenario, because he scored 30 goals last year, and because of the hockey intangibles in brings to Toronto’s lineup.
The second: if he picks up his offensive slack, and finishes with let’s say 20G and 50P, he’ll receive a number much closer to the 5 million many thought him capable of earning at the beginning of the year. For him to finish with 20 goals and 50 points, he’ll have to score 18 goals and 39 points in the remaining 55 games. Obviously, that’s a huge improvement and is about on par with what management expects from a second line winger, in general. For that, salary demands similar to the one David Backes received would be feasible for Kulemin, with a settling point of around 4 likely. To be honest, I think Burke lets him go if it’s anything higher than that as well. Players with similar roles and production in Clowe, Ruutu, Moulson, and MacArthur all received salaries under 4 million. I settled on a prediction of 4 because Backes and Booth – two more players with similar roles and production – received significantly higher salaries than that, so a deciding point of 4 makes most sense.
Term will be decided quite simply. I think Kulemin’s porous start has pretty much eliminated any chance he had at receiving a lucrative 4 or 5 year deal. Kulemin, like Grabovski, isn’t a core player by any means, so a long term deal of that stature would have been difficult to convince Burke of in the first place, anyways. If Kulemin finishes on track with his current pace, a one year or two year deal could be signed. If he finishes with numbers closer to what many projected him to, he’ll get offered a three year deal. Anything higher than a three year contract will have to result in a salary drop.
However, like Grabovski, I think he’ll accept his three year deal, for a total of 12 million.
Now, these numbers I’ve thrown out are just that, numbers. I’ve took into account everything I know about these two forwards when thinking of their next contracts – production, place on the current roster now and in the future, and how management values them. In Kulemin’s case, even if his numbers rise, what management thinks of him really showed when he was reportedly offered to Philadelphia in the off-season, and being an active name in a potential trade to Anaheim. In Grabovski, he gets a little more than perhaps he should simply because he’s provided something the Leafs have lacked dearly in recent years: top six scoring.
Another thing to think about is Burke might not bring either back, or even one, though unlikely (like I mentioned, why Burke would want to get rid of top-six depth is obsurd). They’ve been heavily involved in trade rumors in any potential trade that sees Toronto bring in an elite top-three talent, so they could even go before season’s end theoretically. This piece wasn’t meant to say whether or not to say if Grabovski and Kulemin would resign or not (though the topic was definitely touched on), it was meant to discuss and get a grasp of the numbers that could go around at season’s end.
So, considering everything we know, it’s safe to say Burke will want to keep Kulemin and Grabovski around, and now, we have a pretty good idea on for how long, and for how much.