Monday, May 24, 2010

What's the going rate for Kulemin?

Nikolai Kulemin is a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) whose contract is up for renewal. There has been a great deal of speculation as to what it might take, in terms of dollar and term, to get Kulemin back on the Leafs.

Last season, Kulemin carried a cap hit of $1.48M with a salary of $850,000. Under the CBA, he automatically qualifies for a 10% raise, meaning the minimum salary he can earn is $935,000. He will of course, sign for a more substantial raise that reflects his potential and his relative importance to the team.

Now, I have to say that I have no idea what Nikolai Kulemin is worth. I mean, I’m writing this while drinking beer on a Monday afternoon – so consider the source - but I thought I’d take a stab at a few of the variables involved in his upcoming contract negotiations.

  1. What contracts (cap hit and term) have other RFAs with similar stats to Kulemin signed; and
  2. What are his arbitration rights? Can Kulemin (or the Leafs) go to a third party to set Kulemin’s salary?


In order to get an idea of the compensation Kulemin might be in line for, I wanted to find players that have put up similar numbers.

I limited the field to players that were RFAs at the end of the 2008-09 season. By looking at players that put up totals that are in the same range as Kulemin, we can look at the resulting contracts that they signed to get a sense of the going rate for 30 to 40 point RFA.

In terms of production, Kulemin’s two years in the NHL have been pretty similar:

73GP 15G 16A 31Pts
78GP 16G 20A 36Pts

There aren’t many comparable RFAs from the 2008-09 season, but here are five RFA forwards with numbers that are somewhat similar to Kulemin’s most recent year. Here are their boxcars and the deals they signed back in 2009:

Brandon Dubinksy 82GP 13G 28A 41PTS 2 years, $1.85M/year
Ryan Callahan 81GP 22G 18A 40PTS 2 years, $2.3M/year
Chad LaRose 81GP 19G 12A 31PTS 2 years, $1.7M/year
Kyle Brodziak 79GP 11G 16A 27PTS 3 years, $1.15M/year
Kyle Wellwood 74GP 18G 9A 27PTS 1 year, $1.2M/year

Based on these numbers, I would think Kulemin is looking at a payday of $1.75M to $2.3 million per year. I’d guess – and this is nothing more than idle speculation – Kulemin inks a two to three year deal with a $2.1M annual cap hit.

That guess, and these numbers, don't take into consideration arbitration...

Arbitration Rights

By my reading of the CBA, Kulemin is eligible for arbitration. But of course, nothing with the CBA is that straightforward.

Arbitration eligibility is based on the age that a player signs his first SPC and his years of professional service. Kulemin signed his entry level deal in May 2007, when he was 20, but by the terms of the CBA he’s considered 21 years old:

As used in this Article, "age," including "First SPC Signing Age," means a Player's age on September 15 of the calendar year in which he first signs an SPC regardless of his actual age on the date he signs such SPC.
According to 12.1 (a) of the CBA, players who sign their SPC at 21 must have three (3) years of professional service to be arbitration eligible.

Kulemin has two seasons with the Leafs and one year with the KHL’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk (a team name that I want to load up with umlauts and claim is an ‘80s metal band). I have no idea if that season in the KHL counts as a year of “professional service” as there’s no definition of “professional service” in the CBA. Helpful, huh?

The CBA does define a “professional games” as:

any NHL Games played, all minor league regular season and playoff games and any other professional games played, including but not limited to, games played in any European league or any other league outside North America, by a Player pursuant to his SPC.
So if Kulemin’s time in the KHL counts as profeesional games, I’m going to presume that a year of professional games is a year of professional service. That means Kulemin has played three professional seasons, which means he's eligible to take the Leafs to arbitration. That means the Leafs don't hold all of the leverage in these negotiations and, in addition to the so-called threat of bolting to the KHL, Kulemin and his agent can also seek higher compensation by taking their case to a third party.

We should know by the first week of July where exactly Kulemin and the Leafs stand...


  1. Are you kidding me? You can't compare those to Kuley! For one, they play for a non-comparable team. Each team has a different style of game-play and different surrounding teammates.

    Kuley will get a longer contract than that! More in the range of a 5 year deal @ $2.250M...and at a Cap hit of $2M.

  2. Morrall Thanks for the comment. Would love to know what fromer RFAs you believe Kulemin is comparable to.

    It's my understanding that he'll be a UFA in four year. If he signs a five year deal he's sacrificing his first year of UFA status. I would expect he'd want a much bigger pay-off for giving up one year on the open market.

  3. Anonymous9:52 am

    MF, this is perhaps the first prediction on the value of Kulemin's contract that I agree with. I can't believe people have been bandying about the idea of $3M. Kulemin isn't the lock to be a 60 or 70 point producer that a lot of people expect him to be.

    Fleet Fox

  4. These projections seem reasonable to me, although I have a feeling it'll be for more years -- which likely means the price tag goes up too.

    I could see Burke doing something in the $2M per season for 2 years range, with the price going up for more years.

    Anything more than $2.5M a year, no matter the lengths, gives me pause. I like Kulemin quite a bit, but we are talking about a 35-point NHL player at this point in his career.

  5. for someone who drinks beer on Monday afternoons, you write pretty good

  6. Paul Steckley1:07 pm

    Nice job, Mike, even if you were inebriated.

    The trouble with comparing Kulemin to any other RFAs is the fact that he likely gets top-6 playing time with the Leafs that he wouldn't get with most other teams. The players you selected are probably good comparables since they're mostly 3rd and 4th line guys that are expected to provide some secondary scoring but aren't expected to put up huge numbers.

    I could see Burke going 3 years in order to keep the average cap hit down. Something like salaries of $1.5 the first year, $2 the second, and $2.25 the third so the average stays just under that $2 million per year average. Until he proves that he can score more consistently, I don't think he deserves more than that, or that Burke will pay him more than that. I like his game but I don't think he's ever going to score much more than 40 pts a season.