Inevitably, most labor disputes are played out in public- and by design. Both parties want to get their message out, establish realistic public expectations and if at all possible, garner public support/sympathy- or at least understanding.
In the case of the Leafs v Kulemin, this is all playing out predictably.
As I stressed in a recent post on this subject, they both need each other. Kulemin is not (yet) worth the kind of formal offer sheet that other NHL teams would have to summon up the courage to give him. If he got what he reportedly wants, the deal would net the Leafs some high draft picks.
So I'd be stunned if there is another team ready to make him a Dustin Penner offer just yet. Penner was bigger, somewhat tougher and had useful playoff experience with a top team in the Anaheim Duycks when the Oilers took the big step to sign him as a restricted “free agent” a few years ago.
Kulemin is a guy I really like in terms of where I think he can get, but he’s not there yet, and he hasn’t played a single NHL playoff game.
If he want to play in the NHL, it will have to be in Toronto. If it’s only about money, he’ll end up in the KHL. But will time back home in a lesser league really cement his status as a player worthy of a big NHL contract?
All he and his agent can do is annoy Burke until they reach some kind of compromise. Burke is probably even willing to pay more than he’d like, but we all know he won’t cave completely on this one. What’s the point of paying someone a ton more than you need to, when you control his NHL rights? Some day Kulemin may hold the cards, and/or become a free agent at a time when his career is in full ascent. If so, he'll get his die, as all good professional athletes do.
In the meantime, he'll still be paid handsomely, even if he doesn't hit a contractual home run.
I think this gets done. We’ll have to read a few media articles with shots across the bow from both “sides”. Kulemin’s agent will suggest there are other places he can play (which he can) and Burke may on occasion suggest that Kulemin indeed check out those options.
But the Leafs need Kulemin, they really do- and he needs them to advance his NHL aspirations.
I don’t know when, but this deal gets done.