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Nazem Kadri walking the bridge to vilification

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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Nazem Kadri hasn’t exactly been vilified during his restricted free agent negotiations with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but training camp hasn’t exactly been right around the corner during that process.

No contract, no camp. No camp, no sympathy from a number of fans and pundits that are increasingly seeing Kadri’s reported demands as somewhat delusional, given his work history and the economic realities of the NHL.

“It’s definitely pretty unfair,” Kadri told the Toronto Sun, talking about the “shut up and sign already” catcalls. “It just seems like everyone who doesn’t know the situation seems to know what’s best for me. I don’t think that’s the case. Hopefully we can come to an agreement soon.”

That frustration is starting to manifest publicly more and more for Kadri. He’s mentioned he’s not to blame for the Leafs having roughly $5 million to sign him and defenseman Cody Franson before the season. On Tuesday, he even dared not kiss the ring of Bob McKenzie, refuting the TSN news maven’s report via Twitter:

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NOBODY CALLS BOB MCKENZIE ‘BOBO’ AND LIVES TO DO IT AGAIN…

Leafs GM Dave Nonis joined the counter-offensive through TSN Radio on Monday, claiming that the offer to Kadri is fair and unrelated to anything but Nazem Kadri.

“The offer that we would make to Nazem Kadri is the same if we had a $64 million cap or an $80 million cap. It’s a fair offer for what he’s done,” he said.

Nonis also noted that players who miss significant time in the preseason, or the beginning of the regular season, are only hurting themselves.

“It generally doesn’t help a player,” he said.

Well, save for that guy in Montreal who went from a restricted free agent contract dispute to his first Norris Trophy. Even Nonis admits that PK Subban “did pretty well” but “if you look back historically, it’s not helpful.”

Which is to say that Kadri isn’t Subban, which is true on several levels, none of them helping Kadri’s public case.

Subban signed what might be the most controversial “bridge contract” in recent NHL history, taking him from his rookie deal through two years and a miniscule $2.875 million cap hit. Subban was angling for a long-term deal with the Habs; rookie GM Marc Bergevin wanted a short-term bridge contract, and Subban eventually budged.

There’s been plenty of debate about whether the Habs screwed themselves or whether Bergevin actually made a “genius stroke” in getting a cap benefit now and potentially getting great value in a long-term deal later. Eyes On The Prize had a very compelling argument for the latter case.

The Leafs, like the Rangers with Derek Stepan, are looking for a similar structure with Kadri. But herein lies the problem for Kadri: He’s not PK Subban.

Subban entered the Summer of 2012 as an established NHL player. He had played 160 games in the NHL, posting 76 points. There were rough edges to his game and maturity levels he had yet to reach, but the notion that the Canadiens would sign him to a long-term deal – before the CBA outlawed the “lifetime” contract, no less – wasn’t outlandish.

Kadri has one season at an elite level, and a lockout-shortened one at that. Granted, it was nearly a point per game until he trailed off in the end – five points in 12 games – but once more, with feeling: He trailed off at the end. The Hart Trophy arguments being made for Kadri faded; in the end, he didn’t receive a single vote for MVP.

His 44 points in 48 games is a tease. The Leafs would still be paying for potential in a long-term deal. They simply don’t know what they have in Kadri, in the same way Montreal did with Subban.

Assistant GM Dave Poulin of the Leafs told the National Post that “we believe it’s a fair offer [to Kadri], it’s representative of the body of work that he has done in his time here, and we’re in a good situation with that going forward from an overall money standpoint.”

The Leafs could still come out of this stalemate looking like a bunch of miserly tightwads that are sullying their relationship with a bright young potential star – and a guy who should already have a chip on his shoulder pad over how he was handled by the previous regime.

But there’s a better chance that Kadri’s the one who ends up getting vilified. From Vintage Leafs Memories and Michael Langlois:

Are you starting to get just a tad annoyed that a young person who has played barely a hundred NHL games wants to be a multi-millionaire already and has been so outspoken about his demands? Or are you among those who believe he has every right to push the Leafs and Dave Nonis to the wall because he’s a good young player and “deserves to be paid”—regardless of the cap crunch the Leafs would face if both he and fellow hold-out Cody Franson fought for every last cent they could squeeze out of MLSE?

Kadri has had plenty to say already this summer, though he has recently(supposedly) adopted a posture of silence. (Hey, I’m all for that.) The Leaf brass, via Dave Poulin, provided their perspective on Tuesday. Not surprisingly, their claim is this isn’t about cap constraints, it’s simply about paying a young player what he’s worth—in Kadri’s case, based on a very small sample size of NHL play. Of course Kadri says his demands are "reasonable". Predictably, the Leafs say they have made a very fair offer.

This is Kadri’s first contact rodeo. Hopes are dashed, hearts are broken, it’s a negotiation. He’s not going to get the term he wants, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll get the money either given the plummeted cap and the Leafs’ space.

The conversation, then, will eventually turn to how Kadri processed this experience.

And here is where Leafs fan hope Kadri is more like PK Subban, who had a career year fueled by Hater-ade. From Sportsnet:

“It’s very easy now for people to speak positively about our team and about my situation because of the way we’ve played this season,” Subban told sportsnet.ca during a candid one-on-one conversation [in April 2013] “But I don’t forget the people that said that I’ll never play in a Habs jersey again or that I’m selfish or that I’m greedy or that I’m confused. I’m thinking I’m a lot better than what I actually am.

“I don’t forget those things, and maybe those comments and those people are the reason why we’re having such a great season this year.”

Subban used it all for motivation. What’ll Kadri do?

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