Kadri contract squabble the prelude to larger battle
For starters, why the fuss now?
Seriously, if Nazem Kadri isn’t signed by Oct. 1, we can all get worked up about it then.
Now? With 10 days before the CFL — again! — doesn’t deliver a Hamilton-Toronto Labour Day Classic? C’mon.
It’s a story, sure, and the vast divide that separates what Kadri wants and what the Maple Leafs likely want to pay him is reminiscent of the huge driving lanes that opened in the blue-and-white defence when the Boston Bruins decided they weren’t interested after all in a quick exit from the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Gaping, in other words.
Really, it’s anything but unexpected, and less about Kadri being greedy or the Leafs being cheap than about the absurdity that after two extended labour stoppages in the past decade, one that destroyed an entire season, awkward flaws still exist in the collective bargaining agreement between the players and owners.
Specifically, teams and players are frequently ending up at loggerheads after the expiration of initial three-year entry level contracts. With a year or two to go before arbitration rights become available, teams are reluctant to have to make a rather sizeable guess-timation of a player’s value after three seasons or less.
At the other end, players who are able to be productive NHL players at age 19 or 20 believe they should be paid that way.
Just prior to the last lockout, the Edmonton Oilers decided they wanted Taylor Hall under contract for the long haul after just two NHL campaigns and awarded him $42 million (all figures U.S.) to be paid over seven years.
We’ll see if Edmonton or Hall learns to love the deal more.
Just days later, Boston did pretty much the same thing with Tyler Seguin, giving him $34 million over six years.
“We’re very happy that we’ve got a commitment from Tyler, we’re obviously prepared to commit to him,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli at the time.
That “commitment” lasted less than a year, and the Bruins were more than happy this summer to move Seguin, the contract and the young man’s reputed lifestyle to the Dallas Stars.
So with Hall and Seguin, it’s been done one way. Big money, big risks.
The safer path seems to be that selected by the Montreal Canadiens and defenceman P.K. Subban, although it took a brief holdout to get the deal done. After missing four games, Subban got $5.75 million over two years, good money, but not the huge dollars he’ll get after winning the Norris Trophy last season. The Habs will be happy to pay up, knowing they have a true star on their hands.
They call that a “bridge” contract that gets a player from entry level into his arbitration years, precisely the kind of the deal the Leafs want with Kadri, who would prefer something much longer in term with a salary that would put him at the high end of the Leaf payroll.
Fair enough. He can want what he wants, and the Leafs, knowing the player really has no alternative other than the KHL these days, can be as hardline as they want.
It seems very unlikely Kadri will be in training camp when it opens next month. If he’s still out when the Leafs open the season in Montreal, and if the Leafs get off to a slow start, the same misguided souls who screamed that he deserved to be a full-time NHLer well before last season will again scream that the Leafs must pay him the $5 million or $6 million per season he wants.
That’s how these things works, particularly in hockey-mad burgs like this one.
But if Habs GM Marc Bergevin could hold the line with Subban, who at that point was a more accomplished NHLer than Kadri is now, then Leafs GM Dave Nonis, blessed with a new contract himself courtesy of MLSE head honcho Tim (You Say Joffrey, I Say Jeffrey) Leiweke, should have no trouble staring down the young centre and his agent.
Just can’t see the Leafs caving on this one, but it will play itself out as these things do.
Kadri will bet that the group of David Bolland, Tyler Bozak, Jay McClement and ... and ... maybe Joe Colborne won’t be good enough down the middle.
And he might be right.
The Leafs, meanwhile, will bet that they’ve got the hammer and ultimately a short-term offer that will pay Kadri between $5 million and $6 million over the next two seasons will get him in camp.
It has happened with the likes of Subban, Logan Couture, Sean Couturier, Kyle Palmieri and Michael del Zotto. It’s a sensible approach in many ways to a particular CBA problem.
By November, at the very latest, Kadri will be playing under the terms of a contract that both sides will suggest displays a “commitment” from them. But it won’t be. Even if the Leafs get what they want now, a more bitter battle looms just two years away.