It was clear during the 2012-13 season that the patience the Toronto Maple Leafs showed with Nazem Kadri had paid off. The Leafs took their time with Kadri and let him develop with the Marlies instead of rushing him up to the big club. He rewarded them by finishing second on the team in 2013 with 44 points and a plus-15 rating.
Kadri’s entry-level deal has now expired and the young centre is a restricted free agent. Meaning the Leafs can match any offer another team is willing to give him. There is no question the Leafs will be signing him this summer, unless of course the organization wants a riot on their hands from an upset Leaf nation, but the terms of the deal won’t be so cut and dry. The Leafs want to get him locked up long-term, but what is the best strategy about doing so?
The Leafs can look no further than how their rival the Montreal Canadiens handled P.K. Subban’s new deal last off-season. The Canadiens played hardball and inked him to a bridge deal of two years for $5.75M, instead of giving him a lengthy extension. That may appear to be a good move from an organizational standpoint, but looks can be deceiving.
The Habs may end up paying a lot more in the long run now for Subban if you look at it from this perspective. Subban is coming off a season where he finished tied for first in defensive scoring, received a Norris nomination, and in another year he will be an RFA again. If he can post something similar next year then Subban may be demanding $6M or $7M a year to get him signed long-term. Had Montreal given him say around $4.5M over six years or so right now, they would have had much more flexibility down the road.
The New York Islanders did the opposite with John Tavares and that is turning out in their favour. They didn’t go with a bridge deal and now have him locked in at a $5.5M cap hit through 2017-18, which is a great deal considering Tavares’ production and what some other comparable players are making throughout the league.
Kadri’s situation isn’t all that different from Subban’s. The Leafs could try to offer him between $4M and $5M a season let’s say on a long-term contract, or they could try for a cheaper bridge deal. Kadri hasn’t earned the right to a mega contract just yet, but that could change quickly if he continues this strong play. Having him signed to a lengthy cap friendly deal could be crucial down the road.