It’s summer, after all, and I’m feeling fairly mellow when it comes to the Maple Leafs. As I said the other day, at times, I feel downright hopeful about the coming season. (I’ll leave the other side of that coin for another day.)
Players (and their agents) always overvalue themselves/their players when it’s contract time, and there are certainly enough GM’s out there willing to overpay to keep salary inflation spiraling. But I tend to see Leaf GM Dave Nonis as someone who doesn’t especially fall in love with his players. So his decisions are pretty cold, if I can put it that way. He’s all business. He’ll pay either or both of these two young Leafs what he feels they are worth within the cap constraints that the club faces but won’t extend himself beyond that.
I will even add that I don’t think he messes with the rest of the roster (i.e. try to trade guys to dump salary) just to have the money to sign these guys. He won’t move heaven and earth to make it happen.
Bottom line? If the players don’t like the team’s final offer, whenever and whatever that might be, they can sit.
Which would be, in my view, a mistake on their parts.
Goodness knows with the CBA structured as it is nowadays, the players and their agents hold most of the cards. Players can become free agents at what, 27? But when a player is dealing with their pre free-agency contract situations, those are the only circumstances under which the organization actually has the hammer.
We saw it with P.K. Subban in Montreal a year ago. Montreal management held firm and the young defenseman signed for less than some of us thought he would command. He rebounded from a contract holdout to put up a very good season. Drew Doughty, if I remember correctly, struggled early on the year before after a somewhat protracted dispute but ended up helping lead the LA Kings to the Stanley Cup.
But as notable as those players are, I would still make the not-very-scientific argument that holdouts are rarely a good idea for young players. First, it’s often difficult to recapture your earlier form when you have missed training camp and the people you are competing against are in mid-season form. Then there is the anguish of going through a negotiation and there are often lingering feelings of resentment—which can impact performance.
But maybe most importantly, when players still have something to prove—and Franson and Kadri certainly do—it strikes me that they are best advised to fight for as much as they can, but then sign a deal and get to camp—and get in shape.
Hey, they’ll each have their day in the sun. Free-agency these days happens at such an early age (I think it’s silly, but whatever), they’ll both make their gazillions eventually. That’s not far off. But let’s face it, neither guy is exactly proven. I like both players but we’re not talking at this point in their careers about, say, a young Larry Robinson or a blossoming Yvan Cournoyer (right), two old-time, all-time Hab greats that I hated as a Leaf fan but had great respect for. Those guys became Hall-of-Fame players. We are talking about still young players who have strong upside, yes, but who still have a ways to go to be considered in the upper echelon of NHL stars. (Kadri actually has some of Cournoyer's flair, but Yvan was a remarkably fast skater and a true sniper...)
A year ago I could have cared less if Franson even re-signed with the Leafs. I well acknowledge, as I posted here not that long ago, that he had solid season last year with the Leafs. I'd hate to see him go now. He should be a fixture on the Leaf blueline for years to come. But he still has some “proving” to do yet.
That is even more the case with the younger and still emerging Kadri. Nice player, sweet hands, and a cheeky little edge to his game last season—notable for a smallish player known in junior hockey mostly for his scoring skills. But he has not had a full season in the NHL where he has shown he can be an elite guy, as much as I like what I saw last season. Will he be a legitimate difference-maker over an 82-game season and a long playoff run? He could well be, but….
Kadri is still a young man, and should/will only get better. But let’s not get too greedy too soon. I’m sure he’ll do fine, monetarily, over time. He needs to sign a fair deal that works for the team, and then he can shoot for the moon a few years down the road if he proves to be as good as he and his agent think he is.
They’re not asking for my advice, but I’ll say it again: negotiate for what you can get, sure, then do the smart and reasonable thing. Neither of them is a franchise player just yet, so sign a short-term deal, prove you are indispensible and believe me, you’ll get your money some day.
In the meantime don’t go the holdout route. Unless you are a superstar, that rarely works out.