Cox: Keeping Kulemin may prove pricey

The danger in evaluating the individual components of a ruined hockey season sometimes lies in assessing too much value to the few who have actually performed well.

The classic example, of course, is the heroic goaltender on the bad team. Just because a beleaguered masked man faces a zillion shots without cowering does not necessarily mean he’s a good goalie.

The challenge for Brian Burke as he analyzes his Maple Leafs, then, is to clearly identify those players who have actually achieved something more than just standing apart from the rabble.

In some cases, that evaluation is about whether those players should return next season.

In others, it’s about how much they should be paid if they do stick around.
Which brings us to the complex case of Nikolai Kulemin.

To most, the 23-year-old Russian winger is one of a handful of Leafs who have delivered something close to bang for the buck this season. For a paltry $850,000 (U.S.) per season, Kulemin has made clear and identifiable strides toward being a bona fide NHLer.

He came to Toronto advertised as Evgeni Malkin’s talented wingman from Magnitogorsk, but that was misleading. Instead, Kulemin, much more substantial at 220 pounds than most suspect, has started to make an impact as a grinding, physical forward more at home in tight spaces than open ice.

“He’s our most improved player, his work ethic is excellent and we’d like to see him stay a Leaf,” said Burke Wednesday from Boston after attending the AHL All-Star Game in snowy Portland, Maine, on Tuesday night.–cox-keeping-kulemin-may-prove-pricey