Author: Jason Brough

Nazem Kadri

Babcock expects Kadri to be ‘an elite player’

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Expectations for Nazem Kadri have always been high. When you’re a seventh overall draft pick, that’s going to be the case.

But with Phil Kessel gone and Tyler Bozak potentially out the door next, new coach Mike Babcock expects the 24-year-old Maple Leafs center — armed with a one-year, prove-it contract —  to take his game to another level next season.

“I expect him to be an elite player,” Babcock said of Kadri, per the Toronto Star.

“He gets to come in and have a heck of a year and put the screws to us. Why wouldn’t he? If I’m him, I’m going to have the best year of my career because I’m training the way I should and living the way I should, then why wouldn’t I have a short-term deal?”

Kadri finished 2014-15 with 18 goals and 21 assists in 73 games. While those numbers don’t exactly scream “elite player,” it should be noted he played mostly with Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli.

With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see if Babcock gives Kadri more time with James van Riemsdyk, who skated almost exclusively with Kessel and Bozak on Toronto’s much-maligned first line.

Related: Leafs sign Matthias — one year, $2.3 million

No expansion bid expected from Kansas City

Los Angeles Kings v St. Louis Blues
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While groups from Seattle, Las VegasToronto and Quebec City are expected to apply for NHL expansion teams, one from Kansas City is not.

From Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star:

The NHL has vaguely mentioned Kansas City as a possible expansion market, and the Sprint Center’s lack of an anchor tenant makes this a natural question. But, as best I can tell, no one from or representing Kansas City will be among those submitting bids for a team to play here.

Lamar Hunt Jr., who owns the ECHL’s Missouri Mavericks, a minor-league hockey team that plays in Independence, called the NHL’s $500 million price tag for an expansion franchise “a ridiculously big fee,” and said that he is not aware of anyone in Kansas City who will make a push for a team.

The Sprint Center opened in 2007 and seats around 17,500 for hockey. It currently has no full-time tenants, though the Pittsburgh Penguins flirted with the idea of moving in a few years ago.

Related: Got $500 million? NHL to begin ‘formal expansion review process’

Leafs sign Matthias — one year, $2.3 million

Tuukka Rask, Shawn Matthias, Dennis Seidenberg
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The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed forward Shawn Matthias to a one-year contract worth a reported $2.3 million.

Matthias finished with a career-high 18 goals last season in Vancouver, and he did so in a bottom-six role with barely any time on the power play.

Th 27-year-old can play either center or wing, making him a good match for a team that may or may not trade center Tyler Bozak.

Matthias could also net the Leafs something at the trade deadline, a la Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli this past season. That’s assuming Toronto’s out of the playoff picture at that time.

Report: Kopitar, Kings in ‘early stages of negotiations’ for extension

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Kings center Anze Kopitar is “in the early stages of negotiations for what will probably be a lengthy contract extension,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Kopitar, along with Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, headline the top pending unrestricted free agents of next summer. Also in that group are Eric Staal, Dustin Byfuglien, Ryan Kesler, Jakub Voracek, Brent Seabrook and Milan Lucic.

For the Kings, if Kopitar re-signs, it’ll be another long-term contract on the books. Los Angeles currently has seven players locked up through at least 2019-20.

Kopitar, 27, will almost certainly become the Kings’ highest cap hit. At present, that belongs to Drew Doughty, at $7 million through 2018-19.

Related: Toews, Bergeron, Kopitar are the Selke Trophy finalists

Sabres lock up O’Reilly through 2022-23

Nashville Predators v Colorado Avalanche
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Ryan O’Reilly won’t have to engage in another contract negotiation for a while. The Buffalo Sabres have given him a seven-year extension, locking the 24-year-old forward up through 2022-23.

O’Reilly’s cap hit next season will be $6 million, per the two-year contract he signed with Colorado last summer. For the next seven seasons after that, it’ll be $7.5 million, according to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

It was the failure of O’Reilly and the Avalanche to agree on a long-term deal that led to him being traded to Buffalo last week. He’d reportedly asked Colorado for an eight-year, $64 million contract. Ultimately, that was too rich for the Avs, who felt they had no choice but to trade him.

In Buffalo, O’Reilly will be the Sabres’ highest-paid player. Evander Kane’s cap hit is $5.25 million, Zach Bogosian’s is $5.14 million, Matt Moulson’s is $5 million, and Tyler Ennis’s is $4.6 million.

O’Reilly’s contract is also structured in a way (see: David Clarkson’s deal) that makes it difficult to be bought out:

Related: Jack Eichel signs entry-level deal with Sabres