Russian two-way forward Nikolai Kulemin is what I like to call an enigma. Some nights the man is just a beast at both ends of the ice; at other times, he's invisible.
This past season where he only potted seven goals, Kulemin was invisible 99 percent of the time with the Leafs. However, another strong showing thus far in the KHL with 34 points in as many games with Magnitogorsk Metallurg has NHL teams talking trade with the Leafs.
Kulemin owns a pretty reasonable contract for the eventual new CBA, and he's still young with some potential.
The Edmonton Oilers apparently still see some potential in Kulemin, as according to Jeff Marek of Rogers Sportsnet, the Oilers are looking to pair Nail Yakupov, the club's first overall selection of this past draft, with another Russian player to help ease Yakupov's transition to the NHL.
Given the way that Kulemin plays responsibly in both ends of the ice, as well as his ability to score 20 goals a season, the Leafs won't be giving him away for nothing.
The Oilers won't be giving away their generational talents like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle, appear more likely to try to offer up Ales Hemsky, whose injury history, a two-year $5 million contract and a soft style of game make him a terrible fit in Toronto.
Another player who could garner some interest is Sam Gagner; however, the Leafs are loaded at center and won't be looking to add there either, although Gagner can play the wing.
Magnus Paajarvi is an interesting trade asset, but again, the Leafs have enough wingers both on the squad and in the minors to really not need a player who hasn't reached his potential, or may never reach the potential he had when he was drafted by the Oilers.
The two names that I would be interested in are Ryan Whitney and Ryan Smyth.
Whitney has an expiring $4 million contract and would give the Leafs another veteran defender on the squad. GM Brian Burke has always said he likes to build from the net out when building a team. Strengthening the defence would only help the Leafs when or if they start up again.
If there's no NHL season, the Leafs just get $4 million in cap space to try to go after a big-name center like Ryan Getzlaf in the 2013 offseason.
The other name that should garner interest is Ryan Smyth. I have no idea how open the Oilers would be to include Smyth, an Oiler lifer, in a trade for Kulemin, but the inclusion of Smyth only makes perfect sense for both sides.
The Leafs are preparing to play a tougher, more in-your-face style of game, and Smyth's veteran experience and ability to get to the dirty areas of the ice only help him get into the good books of coach Randy Carlyle.
Smyth and Kulemin each have two years left on their deals—Kulemin making $2.8 million a season, and Smyth making $2.2 million a season—so they are pretty close in terms of contracts.
With Yakupov coming over as soon as the NHL lockout ends, he'll likely bump out either Hemsky or Smyth from their top-six position. That would make one of them a depth forward at an average cost of over $3.75 million a season, likely not a sound business decision heading into a new CBA.
How open are you to trading Kulemin?
If there's a deal to be made for Kulemin, which team do you think has the best chance to get him?
What trade makes sense for being a long-term option for the Leafs with regard to Kulemin?
Feel free to answer those questions or post a comment below.
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