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Leafs need to re-sign Kulemin

Those following this site know my views on Nikolai Kulemin.

He developed nicely this past season, a player who could be a bit physical, was usually smart with the puck and showed potential in terms of mid-to-high-end offensive skills at the NHL level. I believe he can be a 70-point guy and become an effective all-around player- a borderline “top-six” forward.

That said, he is not entirely proven, though his play at the recent World Championships certainly reinforced for me the notion that he will be a very good NHL player for years to come.

Now the dance has begun in earnest between Brian Burke and Kulemin’s agent. If Toronto newspaper reports are accurate that Kulemin is seeking 3 million a year, that figure is high for someone with so little NHL experience- but something he can probably get by staying in Russia and playing in the KHL.

While it’s not impossible, I don’t foresee an NHL team making him that kind of offer as a restricted free agent. That said, the landscape for restricted free agents is certainly not like ten years ago when there was an unwritten code among GM’s not to make such offers.

This will likely come down to Kulemin deciding if he wants big money more than an NHL career. Burke may budge enough to offer him a solid three-year deal at between 2 and 2.5 million, but I would be stunned to see Burke “capitulate” to the agent’s demands, to use the infamous word uttered by former Boston GM Harry Sinden in the heat of labor talks years ago.

Kulemin has a bright future in Toronto, but if he wants to play in the best league in the world, he’ll have to compromise.

And if the Leafs want him (and they do), they will have to pay more than they want to.

Leaf fans would be the first to suggest after the fact that over-paying for Kulemin was a bad thing if he gets what he wants and then doesn’t produce. Yet Burke knows he needs Kulemin, because Toronto is woefully weak up front and lacks proven “top-six” forwards. Still, he won’t be bullied, so it will be a fascinating few weeks in Leafland.

If Kulemin leaves, it will leave a substantial hole that will not be easy to fill with someone who is as young, talented and promising as Kulemin. And even if you did replace him somehow with someone of equal impact, the Leafs would still just be where they already where when they had Kulemin.

Unfortunately, they need Kulemin- and a whole lot more.
Toronto Maple Leafs hockey blog

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