As training camps opened this week, the last of the RFAs have begun to re-sign with their clubs. Most notably, Leaf phenom Nazem Kadri signed a two year pact that will pay him $2.9-million per season. A hundred or so miles down the road, the Buffalo Sabres locked up their star RFA centre Cody Hodgson to a six-year deal at $4.25-million per year.
Last season, Kadri had a stellar 44 points in 48 games; Hodgson had a good but not great 34 in 48 games. For their careers, Kadri has a .636 points per game average (63 points in 99 games played) compared to Hodgson’s .554 (73 pts in 139 GP). So why does Hodgson get $20-million and four years more than Kadri?
The choices undertaken by the Sabres and the Leafs with their RFA centres were entirely situational. Let’s face it: Buffalo is going to have every opportunity to be one of the league’s worst teams this season. The Sabres aren’t paying Hodgson for his efforts in the short term. Should Hodgson develop into a 60+ point centre over the course of this deal, his cap friendly contract will allow for the team to add key pieces well down the road. Another benefit of paying a premium for Hodgson in the short term is that it will allow the Sabres to shed a lot of salary via trade while still remaining above the cap floor, possibly expediting their forthcoming rebuild.
In general, the Sabres are long on Hodgson, and hope that he’ll develop into a top flight centre. The hope is that he far outperforms the contract by the third year on, and plays out the prime of his career at a reduced number compared to his actual worth.
It’s a bold decision, and not without merit. Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren took the same risk with current Leaf James van Riemsdyk two seasons ago, and the early returns have been terrific. But the margin for this type of deal to backfire is wide enough to be wary. If Hodgson doesn’t develop, his contract quickly becomes a bit of an albatross. He’ll become a lightning rod for criticism as a highly paid player on a failing team.
For the Leafs, they are closer to Stanley Cup contention; and with their previous offseason transactions, needed to get Nazem as cheaply as possible. The only way Kadri could fit into the Leafs management’s blue print in the immediate future was to conform to a bridge contract. With a very modest sum and a two year deal, the Leafs are able to ice a better team in the short term (especially if they can find a way to re-sign lone holdout Cody Franson). There is risk in the Leafs being stingy with term and dollars, but I think it’s ultimately the safer route when negotiating contracts.
For starters, it’s no certainty that Kadri lives up to his production from last season, or that he’ll develop into a top line centre. Even moderate regression in his game as Cam Charron points out, turns Kadri into a 50-point second line centre. Good, not great, and probably not worth either the six year term or the $4.25-million cap hit that Hodgson already has. The Leafs are betting the under on Kadri’s talent ceiling, and that’s fairly prudent.
For all of his plaudits, Kadri’s breakout season was potentially illusory. With 44 points in 48 games, roughly two-thirds of Kadri’s offensive totals were accrued in roughly half of his NHL career to date. His body of work is about 30% smaller than Hodgson’s, and so forecasting his development is even more difficult. It really didn’t make sense yet to invest in Kadri long term from the Leafs management’s perspective. And in the chance he doesn’t develop into a top offensive threat, he’s still moveable; Hodgson less so with a high number and a back-loaded payout on his deal.
Consider this: Kadri’s miraculous performance in 2013, over an 82-game schedule, comes to 75 points. Had such a thing occurred, there would have been no discussion of a bridge contract. Kadri would have earned top dollar and long term, and it might have required the Leafs to completely rearrange their offseason spending (which – admittedly – wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing). This bridge deal could be quite fortuitous if it helped to ice a more competitive team now.
An interesting case study in how the Leafs strategy to bridge Nazem could work out in the long term, look no further than Sam Gagner. The Edmonton Oilers’ sixth overall pick from 2007 presents an interesting comparison. Through 414 games, Gagner has scored at .623 points per game pace, and is just now developing into something more than a good second line centre.
He, like Kadri, signed a reasonable bridge contract after his entry level deal expired in 2010 (2 years, 2.275 AAV). Gagner then filed for arbitration after two seasons of mild regression before settling on a one-year, 3.2-million dollar contract with the Oilers in 2012. He had a career year in the lockout shortened 2013 season and went on to sign a 3-year deal that carries a $4.8-million cap hit (avoiding arbitration for a second time) and that carries him into UFA.
Should Kadri’s career development mirror that of Gagner’s, then the prudence of the bridge contract will have been recognized. And the fact remains, with the two discounted years, Kadri could earn as much as $4.9-million on his next contract and still have eaten up less total cap space that Hodgson over the course of six seasons. So there’s chance that the Leafs can keep Kadri in the fold at a reasonable number even if he does perform well.
The only way the bridge contract goes bad for the Leafs is if Kadri continues to shoot the lights out in Toronto over the next two seasons, warranting a long-term deal similar to San Jose’s Logan Couture (6 years, $6-million AAV). I’m sure that if the Sharks could go back in time, they’d have been much more amenable to offering Couture a longer term at a discounted rate.
Ultimately, the greatest risk facing the Maple Leafs with their signing of Nazem Kadri to a bridge deal boils down to the fact that they might have to pay market value for a star player in the not too distant future. But even so, that’s mitigated by the static nature of a player’s cap hit as time goes on. With the more bullish estimates suggesting the salary cap will grow to $80-million in just three seasons, the value of any contract signed now is only set to improve. So even if the Hodgson deal doesn’t pan out perfectly, it could be worth less than 5% of the total salary cap by the time the deal is up (it’s about 6.6% now). Even at $6-million a season, Kadri would represent only 7.5% of an $80-million cap.
It will be interesting to see how Nazem Kadri and Cody Hodgson’s deals pan out. It’ll take years to get the full story, but here’s a tautology that Dave Poulin once told to me about contract negotiations: you always want to sign a guy for less. And the Leafs did just that with Naz.
Friday Morning Links:
I'd like to request a twin comparison from a 'numbers' guy and a 'character' guy, of Kadri's caerer this far to that of Gilmour at the same point of his career. In my opinion, Kadri is a similar player, and i believe his numbers are better so far.
Training Camp 2013 – Day #2, Live from the MasterCard Center of Excellence: http://mapleleafshotstove.com/2013/09/13/training-camp-2013-day-2-live-from-the-mastercard-center-of-excellence/ … via @canucksnaphook
Phook's blog is up
Liles or Kulemin need to be shown the door. Like them both but they don't fit in to the plans, esp with our cap situation next summer. Nonis call Burke for fuck sakes
Standard stuff so far. Team feels confident, Games 7 is behind us. Only talked to Leafs for contract. Play hard as he can.
@Burtonboy and the link even works :)
JVR: "It's fun getting your nose bloodied in the playoffs, if your face isn't messed up you're probably not doing your job"
Really loving this guy. I was all for the trade, even still, I think he is exceeding my expectations.
@TheCanucksnaphook Goalie tandems usually don't work for one reason ........ Money
@mlclearwater you have got to quit worrying about the cap
@mlclearwater TRADE Franson, Kuleman, Broll and 1 st Rounder to S Louis for Alex Petrangelo
@mlclearwater oh my god how can you say that? Kulemin is one of our most important players. Hes the only bottom 6 who can play top 6 really and not hurt us. What happens when Lupul is not ready if hes no? Fuck we need kulemin bad now
Cap could take a leap next year. New HNIC contract. Six outdoor games expected to bring in $180 million in new bucks.
@TheCanucksnaphook Great job today phook, thank you very much.
@TheCanucksnaphook Yes and its ready to lol
@wiski Speaking of the other way around, its Carter Ashton there Henny, not Ashton Carter
@wiski Payback time Carter . He nailed Dion yesterday
@rustynail Maybe Fraser should remind Franson that a guy named Paul Ranger is looking real good out there.
@Burtonboy So even if he makes the Leafs Carlyle is saying he'll loan him to Team Canada for the WJ's anyway?...why burn a year of his ELC if he's gonna miss NHL time for the WJ's and maybe only play as little as 40 games?...best case scenario I think is a 9 game audition at the beginning of the year, send him back to jr. where he hopefully gets traded to a contender, then have him play a big role for Team Canada, then reassess him next year
@Dink @mlclearwater hahaha i wish man
@Jordan29 @mlclearwater I like him but he is going to want top six money next summer and that he even wants to play here after we fucked his bff over. I think he leaves so we need to get something for him. For anyone who thinks we are fine next summer with all our rfa and ufa without making these kinds of decisions you are in dream land
@MollySweats @Burtonboy He'll be a better player next year and going forward if he plays 40 NHL games, 60-70 NHL practices with NHL players and a stint at the WJC, then he would at 60 gms at Moose Jaw, and WJC. You send good players, especially DMen to the WJC because it such a great experience for them, its happened lots of times in the past. I might be worried about ELC if he was 18, but he'll turn 20 during the season. He had to go back last year, burn a year of ELC on a 18 yr old with only 48 gms in the season, with a rebuilt knee. This year the knee is fine and he is just too good to go back to the W. Having Riley around would also make it less painful if we lose Franson, to offer sheet or trade.
@mlclearwater @Murph2417 @Jordan29 well I highly doubt we have both Reimer and Bernier next season. If bernier gets the starting job then Reimer will probably be traded, or the other way around if reimer keeps it. So his salary wont go up. I think Kulemin will go for a 3.25 mil or so contract if he wants to stay, if not then we will find someone else
I was asking because I had read this on a Canucks site. They were wondering why he hadn't been picked up as a FA. He sounds like he gets as dirty as they get.
Mason Raymond is a good hockey player. At 6' and 185 pounds he's mostly a skill player, but the Cochrane Alberta farm boy plays tough. He goes to the dirty areas generally. He isn't afraid. He's actually one tough son of a gun given that he got piledriven into the boards in the 2011 Finals and suffered a fractured vertebrae, came back to play hockey and played arguably like he always had: uber speed, skill and determination.
@dlb eh I had to like this and would bet on it being the lineup this year baring u no what