Where's Middle Ground in Nazem Kadri's Contract Talks with Toronto Maple Leafs?

Nicholas Goss@@NicholasGoss35Correspondent ISeptember 4, 2013

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 06:  Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates in an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on April 6, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Nazem Kadri needs to realize that the best move for his NHL career is to end his contract showdown with the Toronto Maple Leafs and not miss any of the team's training camp.

As a young player with a skill set that needs a lot more developing, a full training camp that includes important practices and preseason games, which he didn't get last season because of the lockout, would be a huge benefit to him.

But before that happens, the 22-year-old forward is trying to cash in after a breakout season in which he finished second on the Leafs in scoring with 44 points in 48 games.

There's one problem, however. Kadri reportedly wants a contract that he doesn't deserve following one stellar campaign that was preceded by two disappointing seasons in which he failed to crack the NHL roster on a permanent basis.

TSN's Bob McKenzie provided the details on Tuesday, which Kadri surprisingly refuted:

If Kadri's camp is actually asking for Tavares money, which would be absurd, he must stop the nonsense and sign a deal before camp.

As McKenzie notes, the former No. 7 overall draft pick doesn't have much leverage as an RFA without arbitration rights.

Kadri is very important to the Leafs' success offensively. He's a top-six center who brings exceptional speed, goal scoring and playmaking skills to the ice. His physical style of play and willingness to improve defensively also make him a good fit in head coach Randy Carlyle's system.

With that said, it's important that the Leafs don't overpay to re-sign him, especially since general manager Dave Nonis has only $4,895,833 in salary cap space and also needs to re-sign RFA defenseman Cody Franson.

Kadri has only one good year on his resume, and over the last 28 games of the last season (playoffs included), he scored one goal with just seven assists. There's no way that Toronto can afford to give Kadri a substantial raise and a long-term contract without seeing more consistency first.

So where's the middle ground in this contract negotiation?

Two comparables to Kadri that McKenzie recently pointed out are Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene and Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban, both of whom signed two-year bridge deals before last season.

Since both Duchene and Kadri are young centers and former top-10 picks, let's take a look at a statistical comparison between the two and determine if the Avalanche star's salary is a fair middle ground for the Leafs and their young forward.

As you can see, Duchene had more quality seasons than Kadri coming out of his entry-level contract. But despite having two good years on his resume, a poor 2011-12 season that was impacted by injuries prevented Duchene from getting the long-term deal that other young stars such as Tyler Seguin and Jeff Skinner received.

He settled for a two-year bridge contract worth $7 million in June of 2012, and a strong 2013 campaign (43 points in 47 games) put him in a position to earn a five-year, $30 million extension in July.

Kadri needs to go the same route and prove himself to be a legitimate top-six forward who excels against top competition on a consistent basis before he cashes in with a massive contract.

A two-year bridge deal worth $6.5 million (a raise of about 153 percent per season) would be a fair middle ground to Kadri and the Leafs based on his NHL performance, while also giving him plenty of motivation to work hard and improve in an effort to earn an enormous extension with his third contract.

Kadri needs to be careful.

The London native has finally started to play at the level of a first-round pick with the potential to become the No. 1 center that Toronto has been trying to find for a decade. But the 22-year-old also needs to understand that hurting his reputation among teammates and management by missing any part of training camp, preseason or the regular season waiting for the contract he wants isn't worth the headache.

Take a bridge contract and prove your worth, Nazem. The 2013-14 season will be the most important chapter of your young NHL career.


Nicholas Goss is an NHL columnist at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the 2012 NHL playoffs and the 2013 NHL draft.