From Beauchemin to Stalberg, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2009-10 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Maple Leafs for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2010-11. That means only guys that are still property of the Maple Leafs. We're doing this in concert with Maple Leafs Hot Stove. Next up, Nikolai Kulemin. No, you didn't learn your alphabet incorrectly. I was playing soccer with my dad.
#41 / Left Wing / Toronto Maple Leafs
Jul 14, 1986
Years in the NHL: 2
Became a Leaf: Drafted in 2006 in the 2nd round, 44th overall
Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent coming off of 3 year deal worth $1.487K a year
|2009 - Nikolai Kulemin||78||16||20||36||0||16||0||1||3||0||145||11.0|
Nikolai Kulemin continued his development into the Maple Leafs' best two-way forward just in time for his agent to try to play hardball with Papa Burke over his new contract. Rumours are that they are $1M apart but the reality is that if Kulemin, as he has indicated with his words and his actions, wants to play in the NHL then the Leafs have the upperhand thanks to the CBA.
But why is this dragging out? Well, let's look at his season to see why Kulemin might expect more from Burke.
Kulemin has grown leaps and bounds since the beginning of the 2008-2009 season. His counting stats didn't make the big leap we were hoping to see but you could tell that his confidence that he was an NHLer had cemented and that he was adept at using his size and speed to harry the opposition's defence. He made the move from the third line to the top line with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel effortlessly and while there is some truth to the fact that he is a first liner by default on the team that should not detract from the potential that he has shown.
Among the Leaf forwards that finished the year with the team he had the third highest GVT, played the 2nd toughest opponents, he's fourth in Corsi relative to both his competition and his teammates, and he was second in terms of +/-ON at even strength. Who was the only Leaf to be a positive? The man that is depressing his salary demands.
His counting stats relative to his performance. Let me present a case study that Kulemin's agent is well aware of and that might shine a light on why Burke isn't coming close to their valuation:
|2009 - Mikhail Grabovski||59||10||25||35||3||10||2||1||3||0||126||7.9|
This man makes $2.9M a year for the next two seasons and is 'overpaid'. Kulemin's counting stats show only promise that he could reach Grabovski's level of production and as well all know efficiency is the name of the game. Better to pay Kulemin for what we know he can do and be pleasantly surprised (not to mention cap-wise) than to pay him for what we think he can do and be sharpening our pitchforks in two years.
The picture isn't even clear if you go to advanced stats like corsi where Grabovski has the better numbers relative to the teammates he plays with but Kulemin has better numbers relative to the competition he faces. Both also do a great job of drawing penalties which is a testament to their respective work rates and ability to hold on to the puck. Finally, Tom Awad's GVT paints a picture of Grabovski as the better defensive player.
The Leafs have not had a player hold out since Felix Potvin after Curtis Joseph was signed by the Leafs. I don't think it will get to that point but it would certainly mark the first ugly event in Kulemin's career as a bud.
The Eye Candy:
Well, we know where this is going no matter what so knock yourselves out.
Rate Kulemin below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.