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Kadri and Franson contract deals will get done in Leafland….

I can’t give you any inside information or any legitimate reasons why I feel that the Leafs will sign both Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson before training camp begins next month, but I sense it will indeed happen. Call it instinct (which I recognize is not always an accurate gauge of the future…) but I think it will get done.

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.


  1. Michael, your comments are, as ever, paragons of common sense but I am not so sanguine that such sense will prevail in this case.

    My main reason for thinking things will go otherwise stems from my contention that Nonis' style seems, this summer, to be far less influential than Carlyle's. Consider for a moment Clarkson's contract. Either (a) Nonis isn't the cold-hearted pro you consider him to be and he fell for Clarkson as a player and thus overpaid him in $$ and term, or (b) Nonis is building Carlyle's team and Carlyle told him to get Clarkson at all costs, hence the man being overpaid in $$ and term.

    If (a) Nonis is going to let sentiment play a part. If (b) Nonis doesn't matter and Franson and Kadri are in the hands of a far more mercurial negotiator in Carlyle.

    What that means for the two of them, I just don't know. I have found many of Carlyle's choices to date unfathomable and have given up trying to guess what's next. But my instincts, such as they are, tell me Franson gets traded, Kadri gets paid.

    1. If one of the two has to be traded, it would seem that Franson is the guy to go. We seem to have depth on defense. (We can debate how much quality there is, but we do have youngsters who could, in theory, step in...)

      I do hope that it doesn't come to that. I'm no cap expert and couldn't begin to do Nonis' job. But I just have a hunch he wants to keep both players- all things being equal.

      I realize that cap constraints and unreasonable contract demands will lead to things not being "equal". So no, nothing is certain.

      To you earlier point re the Clarkson signing, you may recall I penned a column here that essentially asked "how long before we think it's a bad contract?". Maybe we'll be thrilled with the returns, but I think it was a lot to pay for a guy who may be two years from a decline. I think the difference though is the same "difference" that always leads GM's to overspend on UFAs: the desire for instant progress overtakes common sense.

      When it comes to players after their first or second contract, or at least that haven't reached free agency, that's when GM's can try to "hold the line".

      Your comment re Carlyle also speaks to my most recent post, when I asked whose team this was: Leiweke, Nonis, Carlyle, Phaneuf or someone else's...

      Thanks KiwiLeaf- always great food for thought!

  2. I have read a quote from Kadri elsewhere that in effect said that he and Franson both want to stay with the Leafs and that they are well aware of the salary cap situation and willing to negotiate with that in mind. I do feel that both will sign with the Leafs.

    Both players know deep down that the Leafs provide the best situation for each of them. Franson flourished under Carlyle's system and is practically guaranteed top 4 minutes and substantial power play time. Kadri has a lock on top 6 minutes and is pretty well guaranteed Lupul and Clarkson as linemates.

    Both players are in ideal situations to build their resumes and realize big paydays in the future. They would be foolish to risk that for a few extra dollars in the present.

  3. You said it well and much more succinctly than I did, Pete Cam. They both are in a "good place" here in Toronto. They just need to sign and take advantage of it. Thanks Pete.

  4. As I said the other day, I don't expect much to change before camp opens, besides the signing of Franson and Kadri. It appears Nonis and Carlyle are on the same page, higher-ups will hopefully keep their beaks out of it, and for the good ship Maple Leaf it's steady as she goes. For 20 games or so...

    1. Like you, Gerund O', I'll be keeping my eye on the first 20 games. Getting off the mark in their Division this coming season will be key, to state the obvious...

  5. Hey Michael,

    I seem to have the same feeling as you and pete - It makes more sense to sign for a little less now and prove their worth more than they took this year - for both of them.

    Anon from scarborough.

    1. I think the challenge here, Scarborough Anon, is if the players and their agents can take their foot off the pedal and have some perspective. If they can take a step back, sign, and both play as well as what they think they are worth, they'll earn plenty next time around.

  6. "Consider for a moment Clarkson's contract. Either (a) Nonis isn't the cold-hearted pro you consider him to be and he fell for Clarkson as a player and thus overpaid him in $$ and term, or (b) Nonis is building Carlyle's team and Carlyle told him to get Clarkson at all costs, hence the man being overpaid in $$ and term."

    I am going to go with (c) Clarkson was one of the few free big UFA's in that was openly willing to come to Toronto. Nonis gave more term because he wanted to ensure that got Clarkson. If he failed and Clarkson went on to big success with another team...well that's the sort of thing, combined with other shortcomings, that will get a GM fired.

    We recieved some clarification on Franson and Kadri on Friday. This is from a new article:

    Nonis said the intention is to have both players under contract by the time camp begins.

    "From our standpoint, we have enough cap space in our minds to get both players signed and that's what we intend to do," Nonis told during a phone interview. "There are definitely ways of making it work. That's our intention."

    Nonis said there is nothing to update on the status of the negotiations with Kadri and Franson, but said he's not deterred by the fact it is mid-August and neither the Maple Leafs' No. 2 center nor their top offensive defenseman from last season are under contract.

    "There have been quiet periods [in the negotiations], but that doesn't bother me at all," Nonis said. "That's par for the course in these types of situations. I also think it's a different year a little bit with the cap dropping [from $70.2 million to $64.3 million]. I think there is recalibration that needs to take place on both sides. You look around the League and I think that's happening. There are a lot of good UFAs [unrestricted free agents] that aren't signed because of the amount of money left in the marketplace."

    My personal guess is that the Leafs ( like many teams) will go with just 21 players to make it under the cap: 12 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goalies and they will push guys up and down from the Marlies as needed.

    That leaves the Leaf with about 6.23 Million for Kadri and Franson. Nonis will not want to use it all so my guess is that Nonis is offereing them both about $2.79 million.

    That litle bit of cap space, just more than $650,000 would be really helpful with an injury at forward. The Leafs could shift other players up lines and bring in a Marlie like Spencer Abbot to play on the third line until the inured player comes back or the injury goes long enough to merit long-term injury cap relief. Abbot might be too small to ever become full-time NHL player, but he just signed for a very reasonable $650,000. As an older college aged rookie for the Marlies, he did quite well with 33 points in 55 games, plus he is very good defensively with a plus 9 in those 55 games Do you now see how that last bit of cap space matters so much? I am sure the agents hate this year's situation.

    My guess is that Kadri is more likely to settle soon. He has more to lose by not playing. Bolland had great junior stats and actually played allot with Patric Kane in Chicago. What if Kadri held out of training camp and Bolland clicked on the second line and Colborne clicked on the third?

    The Leafs could let Franson sit for a while until he agrees to $2.79 million. The still have Phaneauf , Gunnarson, Gardiner, Ranger, Liles and Fraser. They could give Rielly a good look in the preseason game and then few games to start the season. After they send Rielly down (and as long as the Leafs are winning) they then could give Blacker and Holzer a look in the 7th defenseman's spot.

    I could see the Leafs not trading Franson, but letting him sit out as many as 20 games until he comes to terms, especially if Ranger is successful.

    1. I like your analysis DP and you may turn out to be quite prophetic. The only thing I don't like (not about your assessment but the outcome you potentially project) is the 20-game holdout for Franson. That would be an unfortunate situation and, I think, not healthy for all concerned. Bitter disputes are a distraction for a team trying to get somewhere. Thanks DP!