How Nazem Kadri Deal Affects Toronto Maple Leafs Chances to Re-Sign Other Stars

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2013

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 08:  Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a faceoff against the Boston Bruins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 8, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Bruins defeated the Leafs 4-3 in overtime to take a 3-1 series lead. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

One contract battle is over, and now general manager Dave Nonis has to return to his desk and plan how he plans to attack the rest of the Toronto Maple Leafs' contract issues.

Kadri asserted himself last year and turned potential into production at a time many of his critics were beginning to think he would never be anything but a tease. That was not the case in 2013, as he scored 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games. 

One of Kadri's gifts is his ability to make each shot count. He found the back of the net on 16.8 percent of his shots, and that was one of the factors that keyed Nonis's decision to give him a two-year, $5.8 million deal.

Nonis has a lot of work to do, because the Leafs have a number of contract issues to address. In the case of defenseman Cody Franson, that is something that Nonis needs to look at immediately. Franson is a restricted free agent and is not under contract for 2013-14.

While it's not likely that anyone else is likely to sign Franson away from the Leafs, holdouts are not good for business because they get media types—and players—talking about things other than the next opponent.

Franson scored four goals and had 25 assists from his spot on the blue line, and he earned $1.2 million last year. Franson, 25, wants a contract that is similar to Kadri's, but at this point the Leafs have less than $2 million in salary cap room.

If this logjam is going to get solved, Nonis is going to have to create some room by trading a veteran player—possibly John-Michael Liles and his $3.875 million salary—or do some creative negotiating with Franson.

Getting Franson's signature on a contract is the Leafs' immediate issue, but there are many longer-term problems that Nonis is going to have to deal with as well. 

Phil Kessel, Dave Bolland, Nikolai Kulemin, Jay McClement, Dion Phaneuf and Mark Fraser are all in the final year of their contracts, and if the Leafs let their contracts play out in 2013-14, it will not be good news.

Nonis does not have to sign all of those players prior to the end of the year, but he can't afford to let all of them lapse because that would undo much of the progress the Leafs made in 2013.

Start with Kessel, who is a legitimate star even though there are some faults to his game. Kessel is in the last year of a contract that will pay him $5.4 million this season. With the Leafs signing Dave Clarkson from the New Jersey Devils in the offseason to a seven-year, $36.75 million deal, it would be hard to picture Kessel signing for less. 

Kessel, 25, has scored 30 goals or more in his last four full seasons. While he will have some defensive lapses, he made big strides in the playoffs when he scored four goals in seven games against the Boston Bruins. Prior to that playoff series, Kessel had been held in check whenever he played his former team.

Now that he has lifted that burden, Kessel may go from being on the cusp to becoming a legitimate superstar. While the Leafs have limited salary-cap room this season, they have more than $30 million available in 2014-15, and engineering an extension for Kessel would be the right move for Nonis.

Bolland can earn himself an extension by the way he plays and conducts himself in the Leafs' locker room. Bolland scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Bruins last June and he was traded to the Buds days later.

Bolland is a gritty player who has the heart to be a second-line center, but his talent is more like that of a third-liner. He has never scored more than 19 goals in a season. 

It will be tough for Nonis to make the right call on Kulemin, who scored 30 goals for the Leafs in 2010-11 but just seven in each of the last two seasons. McClement, 30, scored eight goals and had nine assists last year, and is a decent performer who could be an asset for the Leafs in the future.

Phaneuf is in the final season of a six-year, $39 million contract. Nonis has to figure out if he is worth keeping around for the future. While he was touted as a leader when he was acquired from Calgary in the 2009-10 season, he has never had a positive plus-minus rating while wearing a Toronto uniform.

Phaneuf scored nine goals and had 19 assists last year and he can deliver some big hits, but he makes far too many mistakes. His gaffe in overtime in Game Four led to David Krejci's goal for the Bruins, and he was unable to do anything to stem the tide when the Bruins rallied from their three-goal deficit in the third period of Game Seven.

Nonis may have to make a hard decision concerning Phaneuf, but he must find a way to get Fraser's name on a new contract. Fraser will earn $1.275 million this year, but he appeared to raise his status last year when he had a plus-18 rating.

Fraser did not score a goal last year and is not an offensive threat, but the Leafs can't let him slip through their grasp.

Nonis has to concentrate on getting Franson signed in the short term, and then he must turn his attention to Kessel and Fraser. 

The others can be allowed to play out their situations before Nonis decides who he has to bring back in 2014-15.