NHL Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs Shouldn’t Trade Nikolai Kulemin

Kulemin

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs shouldn’t look to move Nikolai Kulemin before the NHL trade deadline as his value to the team outweighs the value of any potential return for the winger.

Kulemin is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and with a cap hit of only $2.8 million, he likely wouldn’t be difficult to move from a financial standpoint. However, his trade value isn’t high and even acquiring a second-round draft pick for the winger wouldn’t necessarily help the team moving forward.

There are some in the fan base who would happily accept a second rounder for Kulemin, but the depth he provides the forward group with his defensive skills and gritty play is far too valuable to the Maple Leafs to exchange in order to simply collect draft picks. Kulemin isn’t scoring as much as everybody would like but he’s still doing a lot of the little things needed to win games as one of the team’s better defensive checkers. He’s a regular on the penalty-kill unit and although he’s criticized for his lack of offensive production, his defensive abilities are underrated and not something Toronto can easily afford to lose.

When Kulemin is playing well, his added offensive depth makes the Maple Leafs an extremely difficult team to beat. Worrying about Phil Kessel’s line is challenging enough for the opponent and when Kulemin can chip in offensively it makes Toronto an offensive power. In the Maple Leafs’ last 11 games, Kulemin has recorded three goals and three assists, along with a plus/minus rating of plus-five. Those type of numbers from a third-line winger who can step up to play second-line minutes at any time is a overlooked reason why Toronto has been able to go 8-2-1 over their past 11 games.

Kulemin might just be a small piece of the Maple Leafs’ success, but he’s still a solid contributor who shouldn’t be shipped off for nothing. If Toronto needs to clear salary in order to take on a significant cap hit then trading Kulemin make might sense. However, his defensive value to the Maple Leafs is too great to move him.