Over the weekend, TSN.ca ran this article saying that negotiations with Nikolai Kulemin are not going very well, which gets me to wonder, how much does Nikolai Kulemin think he's worth?
In the age group of 23 to 25-year old forwards, Kulemin had a very middle-of-the-road season with the Maple Leafs, only picking up 16 goals and 36 points in 78 games. His 16 goals ranked him 25th in that age group in the category, which shouldn't necessarily translate into a whole lot of money. Currently signed on to deals in that same age group and goal range are Blake Comeau of the Islanders (17 goals, $650,000 in 2011), Rostislav Olesz of the Panthers (14 goals, $3.125 million in 2011), Drew Stafford of the Sabres (14 goals, $2 million in 2011).
Definitely, the best (and most telling) line of the article was, "While they can say: 'he was on your first line last year,' there is no one who would say Nikolai Kulemin is a first line left winger. He's a first line left winger by default because we did not have a very good team. I'm not paying for someone who gets the position by default." There is a distinct level of truth to that statement, which makes the art of negotiations a more colourful piece to watch. Kulemin is not a first line winger on pretty well every team in the NHL, especially when you match him up against other wingers in the league, nor should Kulemin get paid like a top line player, according to his numbers. Comeau, Olesz and Stafford don't normally have the luxury of playing on the top line of their teams, unless there is a benching or injury.
A fair counter-argument that the Kulemin camp may want to use is how good would he be if he actually had some talent to play with? Sure, he had 16 goals getting some top line action with the club, that really didn't have a top line centre on it. Granted, if the Maple Leafs actually found a number one centre to fit on the roster, there is no reason that Kulemin deserves to play with him more than Phil Kessel, who is easily the team's top sniper. It's not an unreasonable argument to make as a whole, but it is one that falls a little short, due to the pecking order in Toronto.
I would say fair market value for one season would be $1.75 million for Kulemin, which would be a fair raise coming out of his current deal, which only had $1.487 million against the cap. If the Leafs can get Kulemin some help and he can put up the numbers, I think Burke would definitely be more likely to talk turkey at giving time.
As a restricted free agent, Kulemin will likely be given a qualifying offer by the club, just so they don't lose his signing rights for nothing. I suppose if Burke is pissed at Kulemin for these deallings, he may just walk away from him and let him slide into unrestricted free agency, but that's nothing for me to speculate about, just saying it's a possibility. If Kulemin gets his qualifying offer, then the Leafs will get the right to first refusal, the ability to match or let go for compensation. Compensation for a $1.75 million offer sheet would be in the neighbourhood of a 3rd round pick, where any sort of compensation would be enough to see Kulemin out the door. I honestly can't see a team paying any more of him in a deal than that, unless they know something that we don't.
I have much doubt that anyone will be out to scoop Kulemin, but I could see Burke trying to move his rights if this goes any further. If Burke can move him, I would expect to see either another troubled free agent or a mid-round pick coming the other way.