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Kadri, Kessel and the Maple Leafs crunch

Nazem Kadri is done his entry-level contract and is negotiating a new deal with Toronto. (Getty Images)

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Nazem Kadri is done his entry-level contract and is negotiating a new deal with Toronto. (Getty Images)

Contract negotiations between the Toronto Maple Leafs and center Nazem Kadri continue to dominate an otherwise slow summer rumor mill.

Sportsnet's David Alter created a stir Saturday by reporting the Kadri camp initially sought a six-year deal worth $6 million per season and reduced it to $5 million “as a means to help the Leafs with their current cap squeeze.”

With less than $4.9 million in cap space, the Leafs would still have to dump salary to meet that demand, which would also complicate their contract talks with defenseman Cody Franson.

Leafs GM Dave Nonis stated his intent is to re-sign Kadri and Franson to deals that fit within their current cap space. Alter claimed the Leafs prefer to sign Kadri to a two-year, $6-million “bridge contract.”

Kadri swiftly responded to Alter via Twitter, claiming his report was “so inaccurate it's actually humorous.” Alter replied he was merely reporting what he'd been told and would be “happy to set the record straight.”

Given the Leafs concern over the drop in Kadri's production late last season (only nine points in his final 19 games, playoffs included), their unwillingness to hand him an expensive long-term contract is understandable.

Kadri isn't dealing from a position of strength in these talks. He is coming off an entry-level contract, his best performance came during a lockout-shortened season and his only leverage is to stage a holdout, which could do him more harm than good.

KESSEL ABOUT TO GET MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE
The buzz over Kadri's contract status has overshadowed speculation about Phil Kessel's future with the Maple Leafs.

Kessel, soon to be 26, is entering the final season of his five-year, $27-million contract and is eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer.

Though a frequent target of criticism from some Toronto fans and pundits, Kessel has quietly become the Leafs best player. He's been their leading scorer for four straight seasons and over the past two years he’s ranked among the NHL's top 10 scorers.

Much of the criticism levelled at Kessel was over his defensive play, but last season (thanks to coach Randy Carlyle) he significantly improved that part of his game.

Kessel's strong performance during last spring's playoff series against the Boston Bruins prompted Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox to suggest “an eight-year deal in the $70 million range is in the offing” for the right winger.

Cox claimed Kessel wants to remain a Leaf and the club will pay “huge money” to keep him. The columnist called upon the Leafs to re-sign Kessel before Christmas to avoid contract talks becoming a distraction later in the season, especially near the trade deadline.

Kessel's critics will argue he isn't worth $8.75 million per season, but his rising stock as an elite player in the league ensures he'll get that money by next summer from either the Leafs or another club.

SATHER STEPPIN’ AWAY FROM LONG-TERM STEPAN DEAL
New York Rangers GM Glen Sather provided an update on the contract status of center Derek Stepan, telling an Edmonton radio station he won't be offering the 23-year-old center a long-term deal.

Stepan was the Rangers leading scorer last season, but he's coming off an entry-level contract and has almost no leverage in his contract talks, just like Kadri.

Sather claimed he doesn't like to hand out long-term contracts to players coming off entry-level deals, yet in July he inked defenseman Ryan McDonagh to a six-year, $28.2 million contract.

Salary cap space is also an issue for the Rangers. With $2.18 million remaining, Sather doesn't have room to sign Stepan (who earned $875,000 last season) to a significant raise and leave enough for other moves this coming season.

Sather also admitted to receiving trade enquires about big center Brian Boyle, but doesn't intend to move him.

Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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