Jan 13, 2012; Buffalo, NY, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Nikolai Kulemin (41) during play against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center. Sabres beat the Maple Leafs 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE

Still No Movement, But The Leafs Ink Kulemin

January 31, 2012; Pittsburgh,PA, USA: Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (center bottom) makes a save against Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Nikolai Kulemin (41) as Pens Deryk Engelland (5) and Evgeni Malkin (71) defend during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pens won 5-4 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USPRESSWIRE

Friday morning, it was reported that the Leafs had in fact signed winger, Nikolai Kulemin, to a 2 year deal worth just $5.6 million.  This averages out to be 2.8 per year, a $600,000 raise from his previous three year deal.  Even though his goal performance dropped 23 goals from last year to the year before, I still think this deal is a bargain for the Leafs.

Unlike other middle line question marks, Kulemin has a ton of upside.  Two seasons ago he was able to net 30 goals, but last season just couldn’t seem to find the twine.  Despite a drop in offensive production, I think he played good two-way game.  And the fact he was able to twinkle the twine 30 times the season prior, suggests to me that he can be a consistent 20 goal scorer.

It’s not as if Kulemin was playing horrible offensively last season either, he finished with 107 shots and a +2 rating.  Sure these are only mediocre statistics, but it illustrates beyond the under-performing 7 goals. Furthermore, it tells me that the 7 goal season is the more likely fluke than the 30 goal season.  I also like to refer to the gold medal he earned at the World Hockey Championships this year as another reason to believe he’ll bounce back.

Playing on the talented Team Russia, Kulemin put forth a solid effort.  He averaged 14:21 in ice time and maintained a +4 rating.  Despite only finishing with 4 points on the offensive side, he proved to do more than to just be along for the ride, but an effective role player.  I think the gold medal achievement will at least make him feel relevant in the top two lines in Toronto.

Even if Kulemin is unable to find his game, the Leafs only signed him to a short term deal.  For me, the price is right and the term is reasonable.  For a player struggling to find his game again, the deal is perfect.  On management’s end, it doesn’t overpay or tie up the team in a long term deal and on Kulemin’s end, it gives him a chance to prove himself again with a short term deal.

Though this may not be the excitement Leafs Nation is looking for, this is the right move by Brian Burke.  But stay tuned, much like the Blue Jays sudden 10 player swap, Burke is bound to make the headlines yet.

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