Yesterday on TSN’s “Insider Trading” segment, Pierre Lebrun dropped an interesting bit of information on the career options available to Toronto Marlies forward Nikita Soshnikov. For those who can’t watch the clip, I’ve included the words in question below:

Nikita Soshnikov, who we haven’t seen this year in the National Hockey League, he’s with the Marlies, he has a clause in his contract that, if he’s not called up by the Maple Leafs by next week, November 14th, that he can go back to the KHL, on loan, for as long as he wants, for the rest of the year.

Now, I think we can all be sure that the Leafs will, in fact, call up Soshnikov before that, so that doesn’t happen. The other point of note here is that he is three NHL games away from becoming waiver-eligible, in terms of going up and down between the AHL and NHL. So, the Leafs have to call this player up, they already have a glut, and a lot of teams around the NHL are looking at the Leafs and saying, “something has to give at some point.”

They have a lot of depth up front, they need help on defence. Will this lead to a trade at some point?

The immediate thought that one could have here is that this really isn’t that big of a deal; Toronto could simply call Soshnikov up before the cutoff, wait out the clock, and send him back down. That solution seemed far too simple, though, so I reached out to Lebrun to clarify whether that would work. Sure enough, the clause re-activates if he gets sent down at any point after the date.

That makes the situation much trickier. True to what has already been said, the Leafs are overflowing with forwards at the moment, with fourteen currently on the Toronto roster, one of which (Josh Leivo) is already believed to be playing a sub-optimal share of games. Even if Toronto is to send Frederik Gauthier back down after Auston Matthews’ alleged ‘soreness’ dissipates, finding a way to rotate Soshnikov in as well is going to prove difficult.

The question you have to ask yourself, before going into the subject of roster-panic trades, is whether or not the player has an intention to leave. Certainly, Soshnikov’s talent level is hard to deny; while he didn’t score much last year, he was one of the most effective penalty killing forwards in the NHL, and this year’s version of him seems a little too talented to be hanging around the minors. Through eleven games, the 24-year-old Russian winger has three goals and six assists and remains one of the most dominant play-driving forwards on the Marlies.

There’s also a matter of immediate money. Soshnikov is on an entry-level deal, which means that he has a two-way contract. Should he stay with the Marlies for a full season, he stands to make $162,500, a far cry from the $800,000 he would have made as a full-time NHLer. If a KHL team were interested in securing his rights, it wouldn’t be that difficult for them to pay him a higher wage in the coming months.

But is the incentive there on either side? Soshnikov’s former team, Atlant Mytishchi, folded just as he left for North America. He’ll have to find a brand new club, with new staff and new teammates, and he’ll have to do so halfway through the KHL season. This means the offers probably won’t be as enticing, and the mid-season learning curve will be stronger. The “Olympic Factor” is brought up by many, but there is a lot of gossip as to whether the KHL will attend the games themselves, and if they do, he still might be on the outside looking in on Team Russia. Assuming he was able to save most of his full-time NHL income from last year, is flying across the world and starting from scratch really going to be a worthwhile move for his long-term career aspirations?

Dan Milstein, who is Soshnikov’s agent, told Lebrun that his player would prefer to stay in the NHL. However, a look through Milstein’s client base doesn’t give you a particularly firm idea of which way the situation could head. His players range from NHL superstars to run of the mill KHLers. Looking at the list from a Leafs perspective, Milstein represents Nikita Zaitsev (who signed a long-term extension), Alexey Marchenko (who found a way out of the organization this summer due to a logjam similar to what we’re discussing now), and Rinat Valiev (who just joined the agency).

My gut feeling here is that this isn’t as concerning of an issue as it sounds. The out-clause was likely placed in the ELC in the event that Soshnikov was in his third year of toiling in the minors with no hope at an NHL future, which isn’t really the situation that he’s facing right now. Obviously, it would be in the player’s best financial interests to be up with the team, but re-building a reputation as a capable offensive player right now is likely beneficial for his aspirations within the league.

Even if he decides to go home, he might be better situated to get a pay-day if he plays out the final few months of his contract here, to make him a more valuable offseason asset across the ocean. Signing now limits what teams could give him, and signing a one-year deal to join a team on the fly and bet on himself is more likely to backfire on him than continuing to rip up the AHL.

We’ll have to see where this one ends up. The fact that the clause leaked out at all would lead you to believe that Milstein is trying to force the Leafs’ hand (as agents are employed to do), but I also wouldn’t rule out the deadline coming and nothing of significance happening. It just seems exceedingly difficult for the player to create a situation better enough for himself to be worth uprooting his life mid-season.

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