The date is September 3rd, 2013, and two very high-end forwards coming off of career years are looking at sitting on the sidelines with training camp just a week away.
Nazem Kadri, 23 in just over a month, put up 18 goals and 26 assists for 44 points in 48 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with 107 shots. He's coming off of his entry-level contract as a restricted free agent and has no arbitration rights.
Derek Stepan, 23 as of June, put up 18 goals and 26 assists for 44 points in 48 games for the New York Rangers, along with 108 shots. He's coming off of his entry-level contract as a restricted free agent and has no arbitration rights.
It's not all as exactly equal as that, with Kadri being a rookie and Stepan playing his third straight full NHL season, but you can see why the parallels are drawn. Another parallel between the two is how their teams are handling their contract negotiations. Both Kadri and Stepan would like longer-term deals, and their teams ... well, let's leave that to Bobby Mac:
Kadri believed to be looking long-term (6 yrs in Tavares stratosphere of $5.5M per). Leafs want short, 2 yrs at P.K. Subban $ ($2.875M per).— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) September 3, 2013
Tough sledding for NYR/RFA Derek Stepan. Player seeks McDonagh $ (6 x $4.7M) but no arb rights, NYR holding firm on Subban level bridge deal— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) September 3, 2013
Well, look at that. The Rangers have very little cap space left at just $2,180,833, while the Leafs have a bit more at $4,895,833, but they also have Cody Franson to sign. It seems like both Toronto and New York operated this summer on the assumption that these two players would accept a deal similar to that which P.K. Subban accepted in January of this year.
Subban didn't accept that bridge deal easily, but the cap benefits of the deal are quite large, and it's obvious that other teams have realized that this is a way to maximize the utility of your cap space, if you can manage to accomplish it.
We've gone over the benefits of Subban's bridge contract ad nauseum, and we've done the same for the risks, but we never really accounted for the impact it would have on other teams. As much as Subban gets dragged through the mud in the media for being cocky or immature, he handled his contract negotiation like a professional, and displays absolutely no bitterness towards the process or the team. Not all players are P.K. Subban though.
Kadri in particular has been venomous when referencing the negotiation, including telling a young reporter (who has since been backed up by Bob McKenzie of all people) that he had bad cred. If the relationship between Kadri and Leafs management becomes irreparably damaged, is that in a way, another notch in Bergevin's belt?
It's an interesting thing to see play out.