TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs appear to be days away from saying goodbye to their longest-tenured player.
Nikolai Kulemin is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and agent Gary Greenstin tells Sportsnet that he plans to make full use of the interview window, which opens Wednesday, to start looking for a new home for his client. Discussions with the Leafs on a new contract have been limited, according to Greenstin, who noted that there is still some time for talks to pick up with Toronto.
However, this is a situation where there no longer seems to be a fit between player and team. The issue? Role, more than contract.
Kulemin was used primarily as a checking line player and penalty killer the last two seasons and believes that he has more to give offensively. He started 66 percent of his shifts in the defensive end last year and produced a career-worst 20 points in 70 games while earning $3-million.
A quick scan of the Leafs depth chart at wing suggests that it would be tough to displace the players ahead of him, especially when it comes to the possibility getting some power-play time.
As a result, Toronto simply might not be able to offer Kulemin the kind of role he desires.
The 27-year-old was a second-round pick by the team in 2006 and has played all 421 of his career NHL games for the Leafs. His peak came during the 2010-11 season under former coach Ron Wilson, when he put up 30 goals and 57 points while playing on a productive second line with good friend Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur.
Now it looks like all three of those players will have left the organization without any return: Grabovski was bought out last summer and signed in Washington while MacArthur landed in Ottawa as a free agent.
Another player that could be on his way out of Toronto in the coming week is centre David Bolland, who still wishes to remain with his hometown team but doesn’t want to do so at a hometown discount.
Bolland is coming off a season where he was limited to just 23 games after having a tendon severed on the outside of his left ankle. The freak injury put a damper on a homecoming with the Leafs that began with some promise.
The 28-year-old made $3.375-million last season and seems well-positioned to command a raise with the free-agent market being so thin. Contract discussions with the Leafs have been off and on since January, but are currently at a standstill.
“Our position hasn’t changed a whole heck of a lot,” Anton Thun, Bolland’s agent, told Sportsnet on Tuesday.
Like Kulemin, the Bolland camp is preparing for the opening of Wednesday’s free-agent discussion window. Since the player will be making his way back from a significant injury, Thun anticipates that some teams may want to speak directly with him.
The lines of communication will also be kept open with Toronto.
“At this time it’s just not coming together,” said Thun. “We can’t force the Leafs to accept our terms.”
With the off-season set to kick in to high gear, there is still a high level of unpredictability around what direction the team is headed. Nothing appears close with Toronto’s other pending UFA’s — Mason Raymond, Jay McClement and Paul Ranger — although Raymond’s agent, J.P. Barry, plans to sit down with Dave Nonis later this week in Philadelphia.
One thing that is known is that talks are underway between the Leafs and restricted free-agent defenceman Jake Gardiner, according to sources. It is believed that the sides are discussing a two-year bridge deal that will likely end up falling somewhere between $2.25-million and $3-million per season.
Toronto had rocky negotiations with RFA’s Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson last summer and isn’t eager to repeat that situation with Gardiner.