Toronto Maple Leafs: Is Nikolai Kulemin Good As Gone?

Mark RitterSenior Writer IJune 7, 2010

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 28:  Nikolai Kulemin #41 of the Toronto Maple Leafs prepares for a face-off against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena on March 28, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Penguins defeated the Leafs 5-4 in a shootout.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Listening to the latest TSN broadcast Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke chimed in on the future of restricted free agent Nikolai Kulemin and it wasn’t pretty for Kulemin.

Kulemin, who stands 6’1 and weighs in at 225 pounds, scored a career high 16 goals and 20 assists for 36 points—third best on an undermanned Leafs squad.

Given the Leafs lack of depth up front, head coach Ron Wilson had little choice but to use the talented Russian on the first and second line for most of the season, a promotion that Burke not only feels Kulemin didn’t earn, but is refusing to pay for going forward.

Said Burke on the topic of re-signing Kulemin: “No one would say Nikolai Kulemin is a first line winger, and I am not paying for a guy who earned it by default.”

Clearly, there is a huge gap in what Burke is willing to pay Kulemin and what Kulemin and his agent are asking for—believed to be anywhere from $3 million or more per season.

The reality is, Burke doesn’t see Kulemin as a first line guy, which leads me to believe he fully intends to either make a trade for a first line winger and/or make a significant free agent signing that would bump Kulemin from his perch on the Leafs top lines.

Kulemin, who once played with Pittsburgh Penguins super-star Evgeni Malkin as a member of the Metallurg hockey system. His best season with Metallurg was a 27 goal, 39 point effort in 2006-07.

Let’s be honest here, as good as Kulemin is, he is no Malkin, and likely never will be. Kulemin looks to be more like a steady, hard working forward, who will eventually play on the Leafs third or perhaps as high as the second line.

No question, if Kulemin should choose to sign with the KHL or demand a trade he would be missed on the Leafs thin roster. That said, guys like Kulemin can be replaced and, for that reason, Burke knows better than to overpay for an asset he sees as having already peaked/reached it’s potential.

Fact is, with just 31 goals and 67 points in 131 career NHL games, Kulemin has done nothing to suggest he deserves a $3 million contract, more likely he should be signed in the $1.5-$2.0 million range, which, given his skill-set and production, is right on the money (sorry for the pun).

Bottom line, Burke is making the right choice and if he should lose Kulemin, oh well, he’ll find another one. Good on ya Burkie!

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Until next time,