Contract Focus Shifts To Kessel
After all the fretting about how in the world the Maple Leafs were possibly going to fit Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson under the salary cap, turns out Dave Nonis' hardnosed this-is-all-we've-got approach worked just fine.
Now we'll see how that works on a much larger scale as Nonis prepares to take a stab, probably a long-shot at best, at getting star winger Phil Kessel under contract before the season opener.
Kadri came in for a $2.9 million cap hit, and Franson has now signed a one-year, $2 million contract. So a combined $4.9 million cap hit is clearly less than what many in the industry were suggesting the Leafs would have to pay.
Both players clearly came to grips with the concept that not only was Nonis not going to cave to their demands (Kadri was initially talking $6 million a year), but that the drop in the salary cap to $64.3 million this season not only tied the Leafs hands but also made it less likely other teams were going to aggressively court their services.
Mason Raymond figured that out, and so for less than $6 million, the Leafs get three good hockey players for the 2013-14 season. Not bad in these inflationary times.
Franson's deal, which should allow him to get in an exhibition game, certainly helps the squeeze created by David Clarkson's 10-game suspension, and also makes it less likely, although not impossible, for 19-year-old Morgan Rielly to crack the Leaf roster. Coach Randy Carlyle will make that decision.
Kessel, of course, won't be playing for the rest of the pre-season but will be in the lineup Tuesday night in Montreal, the day of his self-imposed deadline on any in-season contract talks prior to becoming a free agent next July.
That could change of course. And there will be time after the season, and before free agency begins, for the two sides to talk money and term.
But having the issue hanging over the heads of the Leafs all season is hardly ideal. It worked out with Tyler Bozak last season, but Bozak isn't Kessel.
So Nonis hopes to have at least one serious negotiating session with agent Wade Arnott this weekend or on Monday before the season opener. There has been little negotiating so far, although all indications are that Kessel wants to stay in Toronto.
But at what salary? And what term?
We know the term is limited to eight years, which is one more year than any other team can offer Kessel. Alex Ovechkin currently carries the highest annual cap hit at $9.538 million. Rick Nash ($7.8 million) and Zach Parise ($7.538 million) are likely comparables for Kessel. Steve Stamkos comes in at $7.5 million, and it's hard to make a case the Leaf forward should be paid more than that.
So we're looking at an extension to kick in next season at something like eight years and between $60 million and $64 million. Gulp. Suddenly David Clarkson's seven-year deal at $5.25 million per, the richest contract in franchise history, starts to look small.
Do the Leafs love Kessel that much? Would it be more sensible to spend $8 million next summer on two players? Can a team that still needs more skill to compete with the big boys possibly afford to lose their most skilful player next summer? As he prepares to turn 26 next week, is his best ahead or has he peaked? Can you do a contract that gives the Leafs flexibility to move him down the line?
Seems like a tough contract to pull together in a short time, but then again the Leafs and the agent have been ruminating on this for months.
If Kessel wants to stay and the Leafs are committed to keeping him, then the numbers seem straightforward.
But if either side is unsure, things get tricky in a hurry.