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Kulemin 'very happy' with Leaf deal; Russian winger re-signs for two years, $4.7M // Toronto Star.
The Maple Leafs welcomed a familiar face back into the fold Thursday, are on the verge of adding another and almost certainly will be saying goodbye to a third.
On a relatively quiet second day of NHL free agency - Pavel Kubina's move to Tampa and Matthew Lombardi settling in Nashville were the biggest signings - Toronto's machinations were internal.
After protracted negotiations, the Leafs signed restricted free agent Nikolai Kulemin to a two-year extension. The 23-year-old winger, coming off a 16-goal season, will earn $2.35 million (all figures U.S.) in each of those seasons, a hefty raise from the $850,000 he earned last year.
Toronto is also very close to signing centre John Mitchell. Despite a disappointing campaign in which he scored just six goals, the Leafs want to retain Mitchell and he wants to return. However, since he has arbitration rights, Toronto did not make him a qualifying offer, preferring instead to deal with him as an unrestricted free agent. The 25-year-old should have his name on a contract very soon.
As for the departure, with each passing day it appears more and more likely that defenceman Tomas Kaberle will be shipped out of town to bring the Leafs the offensive punch they desperately need up front. Toronto is now simply manoeuvring to maximize its return on the 32-year-old.
General manager Brian Burke insists he is still just listening to offers from suitors, which he says number five, but clearly he is trying to drive up the price for the smooth-skating defender, something he believes was helped by the high price paid for blueliners on day one of free agency.
The thinking now is that teams that didn't get the defenceman they coveted in free agency - see Kings, Los Angeles - will now be willing to up their offers. Burke has "suspended" any Kaberle talks until Tuesday, letting any needy teams stew over the weekend. He'll then start "listening" to offers again after the July 4 holiday in the U.S.
"Up until (Saturday), there were teams thinking they'd get their guy. Now everyone has found a home and people who didn't get their guy should start calling. We'll wait until Tuesday and see what's there," Burke said.
The Leafs will also refrain from signing any free agents over the weekend. Burke will look at the remainders next week but he doesn't want to put his younger players - and he has a lot of them - in the disheartening position of arriving at camp knowing every roster spot is taken.
While there are those in cyberspace who believe Burke's plan is to pursue unrestricted free agent Ilya Kovalchuk - who seems to have priced himself out of signing with any team so far - the GM says he has "no interest" in the winger.
"We are not involved with Ilya Kovalchuk at this time. We have never been involved. I don't even know who his agent is," said Burke.
Getting Kulemin's name on a contract is a good signing. The Russian upped his physical play towards the end of the season, showed a desire to play hard at both ends of the ice and displayed an offensive touch that hinted he could grow into a 30-goal scorer.
"He's an important player for us, a good young player so we're pleased," Burke said of the signing.
Kulemin's agent, Gary Greenstin, said his client received an offer to move to Russia's KHL but that the player never used it as leverage in negotiations with Toronto. He said he never even discussed it as an option with Kulemin.
"Nikolai wanted to stay in Toronto. He is a very loyal person," said Greenstin. "He is very happy."