Morning Mashup: Kadri, Hodgson on opposite sides of RFA spectrum

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Photo: Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

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:

ICYMI, Anthony Petrielli previewed the Maple Leafs forward corps ahead of the 2013/14 NHL season

MLHS regular canucksnaphook was at the MCC yesterday.  Here’s his report from the first on ice sessions of training camp.

PPP’s Top 25 Under 25 votes revealed.

TLN’s Top 20 continues with No. 2 on the list, Joe Colborne.

The Globe’s James Mirtle with 5 Keys to watch for in training camp.

  • Great Dane

    Good evaluation on the Kadri and just to add one point: Leafs need to get under the cap this year.
    All in all the thing the key word is: Prudent.
    If Nonis and Loiselle continue with this style then the Leafs should be great shape for many years to come.

    If only we could add some top end forward talent.

  • Biltmore

    I love when there’s only one post and I get to choose between “Newest” and “Oldest” setting. Life is grand!
    Oh, and get Franson signed today s’il vous plait.

  • Cameron19

    -Keon- I don’t think Hodgson is in the same league of risk-taking that the Leino deal was – that was just completely off the wall. A more ideal contract for Hodgson would have been the Turris deal (4 X 3.5), but they overpaid by 750K to get those last two years at what they hope will be a bargain. 

    It will probably look like a bad deal for a while though, while the team spends the next couple seasons working to try and surround him with some talent.  Apparently Vanek is likely to be traded this year, or walk next year, so they are basically in a full scale rebuild.

  • Burtonboy

    If I’m Kadri and given he fully believes he can be a top center in this League then I would prefer the bridge at this point . He and his agent realized he wasn’t going to get the long term deal due to a limited body of work. This in my mind is more motivation to succeed and perform well in the next 2 yrs . Not that Kadri needs motivation and honestly I don’t see him regressing. Only wrinkle is potential injuries that might de- rail things. My bet is this one costs Nonis more in the long run.

  • Snots

    I hope this is the last mentioned about Kadris’ contract,  time to make the donuts.

  • Burtonboy

    Snots sorry its peel the veggies these days

  • Knights2Leafs

    I agree with all you are saying. 
    As to the comment: “For all of his plaudits, Kadri’s breakout season was potentially illusory.”  I can only say: 
    “Have you watched him play”.
    He oozes skill and talent.  While he may not be in the same elite category as Kessel, you knew Kessel’s talents were not illusory when the Leafs signed him.  Only the naysayers and idiots thought that.

  • Dink

    I am a big Nonis fan, but he better get Kessel signed or that is going to change.

  • djp55

    How good did it feel to write “For the Leafs, they are closer to Stanley Cup contention” ?

  • Knights2Leafs

    @Dink 
    lol – that’s what I said about Nonis unless he didn’t sign Kadri and Franson by training camp.

  • Joe_17

    Mornin fellers

  • Mind Bomb

    Joe_17  Sup Joe !

  • Cameron19

    The more I think about it, the more I really hope we can find a way to add Franson and Raymond to this team.  Raymond would really help alleviate the loss of depth forwards this summer and pull us through any injury bugs we might get. And in the time being, would give Colborne a winger that isn’t a face-puncher to play with on occasion.

  • Joe_17

    Mind Bomb Joe_17 not much bud. prepping for a dirty storm, drinking my timmy’s and thinking i oughta be working

  • Dink

    Knights2Leafs If Franson misses much camp, he may never get out of the gate, putting him in Carlyles doghouse…
    Today is the day he best get ‘er done.

  • Dink

    Cameron19 I agree

  • Mind Bomb

    Joe_17 Mind Bomb  Grab some bailey’s for the coffee, call in Sick and chat hockey all day with us :)

  • Joe_17

    Mind Bomb Joe_17 Its been a while since i threw a good few straight hours into the site. My day will come…sooooon

  • Burtonboy

    Knights2Leafs Franson’s agent has to take as much or more blame in this one for not going to arb. Unless they feel they couldn’t win and if that the case what makes them think they can win by holding out . Stupid move IMO

  • Knights2Leafs

    Cameron19 
    If Raymond plays, wouldn’t it more likely be:
    Raymond – Bolland – Kulie
    Colborne – McClement – Orr
    with McClement moving up to the third line later in the game if we’re trying to go into shutdown mode.

  • Mind Bomb

    TheCanucksnaphook For me its our Defense bro, is Blacker looking sharp, is Percy holding his own ? Etc

  • Cameron19

    Knights2Leafs Cameron19 Maybe, but I could see a lot of shuffling there, and Raymond playing with Colborne and Orr quite a bit.

  • wendelsway1

    Good Morning All….great day to be a Leafer!  :)

  • Mind Bomb

    wendelsway1  Morning WW

  • Knights2Leafs

    Burtonboy
    That’s fine to blame Franson’s agent for showing good faith by not doing it but it simply goes to show that no matter who the GM is the agents and the players have to take as hard a line as possible.  Franson will next time and then most of the posters on this site will piss all over the “greedy” bastards who get paid too much money.

  • Burtonboy

    Knights2Leafs Burtonboy Good faith ????? Man this is business, you look for every advantage you can get

  • wendelsway1

    TheCanucksnaphook Defence for me too…..would like your impressions on Liles…..Thanks Phook  :)

  • Mind Bomb

    -Keon- Aye Keon, him to.

  • JWasted

    Maybe his agent is looking for a longer term contract? But Franson said he would accept a bridge deal right? Ah well they all play the media/fans to get the best deal. Sucks sports turned into business so much

  • wendelsway1

    Cameron19 I agree….you can never have too much depth….if he comes cheap, all for signing him.

  • Knights2Leafs

    Burtonboy
    Yup and sometimes it takes a good kick in the ass to learn that.  The Leafs undoubtedly will win this in the short term, but it remains to see what the long term effects of this will be.  Everyone seems to think we have an undending steady stream of replacement dmen coming down the pipeline and I would simply suggest that Nonis and Co. take a good hard look at how Granberg played in the rookie camp.

  • Dink

    TheCanucksnaphook Raymond, Ranger, Reilly and ‘Rithmitic
    couldn’t resist

  • Knights2Leafs

    TheCanucksnaphook 
    Sondre Olden…er, I mean Fabrice Herzog.

  • Dink

    Mind Bomb wendelsway1 g’day

  • MaxwellHowe

    Mind Bomb TheCanucksnaphook Yup, definitely the defence corps

  • MaxwellHowe

    Cameron19 Knights2Leafs That would be quite the energy line, assuming Colborne gets his wheels going.  Recall the way he steamrolled a Florida Panther dman late in the season.  He can wreck havoc.

  • Burtonboy

    Knights2Leafs Burtonboy There’s going to be significant changes on our d in the near future . Remains to be seen who actually fits in here. There are really no long term deals on our d so it certainly a pretty fluid situation as to what it will look like in a yr or two.

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/tpanotchCSN
    Giroux is shooting pucks. He grimaced after that
    No Giroux no playoffs

  • MaxwellHowe

    Cameron19 Think he is being assessed as a Kulimen replacement?  cause trading Kuli seems the most likely way to alleviate the cap problem.  Get Raymond for $1 million, trade Kuli and get $1.8 mill in cap space.  And yes generally I agree with phook, one of the kids should get a shot at that spot.

  • Cameron19

    -Keon- I think there’s more to it than that. Again, you’re assuming the worst.  Offer sheets are very rare – I’m sure Franson wasn’t trying to conjure one up. More likely he was aware of how the ice-time could be played against him by the Leafs with an arbiter – much like you did.

  • Burtonboy

    -Keon- I think that’s nuts. Why in fuck would you be expecting an offer sheet . Might as well try to win the lottery

  • MLHS_Mike

    djp55 Haha, really good.

  • Cameron19

    MaxwellHowe Cameron19 They will get their shot though.  There will be tons of injuries throughout the year.  D’Amigo and at least 1 or 2 others will be up at some point. 

    And yea, I said a long time ago I thought Nonis would have to deal Kulemin to get under the cap with Franson/Kadri.  Still hopeful he can do something with Liles though.

  • mcloki

    @Dink Mind Bomb wendelsway1 morning WW,MB,BB, DInk.
    Hockey this weekend. So great.

  • Cameron19

    -Keon- I think you’re letting your dislike of Franson get in the way of your reasoning here….

  • Mind Bomb

    mcloki Mind Bomb wendelsway1 Morning MC, oh hells ya !

  • mcloki

    TheCanucksnaphook JVR. I have a feeling he’s going to have a great year.

  • Cameron19

    TheCanucksnaphook Ugh, I don’t want to go to work.

  • MaxwellHowe

    Cameron19 MaxwellHowe Well he either can’t afford to keep Kuli njext year or Kuli flees to the KHL, so if there’s a market out there. may as well trade him now.  I like Kuli, but the Leafs can’t keep everyone.

  • Burtonboy

    -Keon- If that was part of their strategy then he definetly needs a new agent