The NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs announced on July 20 that they have re-signed winger Nikolai Kulemin to a two-year contract. Kulemin became a restricted free agent on July 1 and had an arbitration meeting with the club scheduled for July 26. The 26-year-old enjoyed his best season in the NHL in 2010/11 when he posted 30 goals and 27 assists. However, his production dropped dramatically last season when he managed just seven goals and 21 assists.
Kulemin has spent four seasons with the Leafs and has accumulated 152 points in that time by scoring 68 goals and adding 84 assists. He missed the last dozen games of the season last year, but has played in a minimum of 70 games in each of his four seasons in Toronto. He’s currently the active leader in games played for the franchise with 303.
Kulemin, who was born in Magnitogorsk, Russia, was originally drafted by Toronto in the second round of the 2006 draft with the 44th pick overall. Going by numerous postings on sports-based internet sites, many fans are puzzled with the new deal, which reportedly sees Kulemin making $5.6 million over the next two seasons. His salary last year was $2.2 million and that has jumped by almost 30 per cent after undergoing a poor season.
It’s likely that Kulemin could have commanded a salary in the $3 million to $5 million range per season if he had duplicated his feat of 30 goals again last season or even if he had reached 20. In reality, Kulemin probably isn’t the 30-goal scorer of two years ago nor is he the seven-goal scorer of last season. He probably lies somewhere between, but should be scoring at least 15 goals and 40 points a year to earn his keep. He posted 15 goals and 16 assists as a rookie and followed it up the next season with 16 goals and 20 assists before reaching the 30-goal barrier.
He’s considered to be a solid defensive forward and likes to play a physical style of hockey. But perhaps a one-year contract would have been a better offer by general manager Brian Burke to see which version of Kulemin shows up next year, the 30-goal scorer or the seven-goal scorer. NHL rules state that a player going to arbitration has to be paid a minimum of 85 per cent of their last contract. However, this depends on their salary, in Kulemin’s case, he had to be offered at least 100 per cent of his last deal.
The team then puts in an offer and so does the player, with the arbitrator choosing one of them. If the team doesn’t agree with the decision, it can simply walk away from the deal and the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. however, if the team requested arbitration instead of the player, it can’t walk away from the contract.
If Kulemin doesn’t live up to his potential this season the Leafs will have a hard time trading him due to his new contract since he’s definitely one of the only players in the league making $2.8 million a year for scoring just seven goals. In fact, at just 28 points last year, he’s been rewarded with $100,000 per point. However, most fans regard him as a hard worker and good checker, but if he doesn’t improve on last season it’s a good bet that this is the last contract he’ll be signing in Toronto.