Will Nazem Kadri Be Back With The Maple Leafs?
Heading into the 2009 Draft, Kadri put together an impressive season with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, registering 35 goals and 58 assists for a total of 93 points, good enough for a tie for fourth overall in the OHL scoring race behind such players as Tyler Seguin (106), Taylor Hall (106), Luke Pither (94) and Taylor Beck (*93- Tied).
While Kadri’s regular season statistics were impressive, it was the playoffs where he really stood out where he tallied nine goals and 18 assists (27 points) in 26 games played, finishing fourth in the playoff scoring race.
With an excellent season in the OHL in the books and many experts predicting big things for Kadri, former Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke viewed the chippy forward as a top-end player with plenty of offensive skill and the ability to be an effective top-six forward.
Needless to say, despite missing out on the likes of John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn (whom Burke wanted really bad!) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Burke had to like the addition of Kadri.
Fast forward to today and you will find that, while many would argue that Schenn is the better two-way forward, Kadri has actually out-scored Schenn during their tenures in the NHL. Kadri has registered 76 goals and 111 assists (187 points) through 312 games played, while Schenn has registered 79 goals and 98 assists (177 points) through 336 games played.
Truth be told, only two players taken after Kadri was taken in the draft have more points than Kadri at this point in their careers. Taken 33rd overall, Ryan O’Reilly has registered 295 points while Marcus Johansson, taken 24th overall, has registered 223 points.
In hindsight, while nobody out there is prepared to call Kadri a star, he has put together decent statistics and has improved his game immensely since he first joined the Maple Leafs.
Verdict: Burke got this draft pick right!
While Kadri’s overall game has never been better than what we have seen from him this season, his offensive totals look to be trending downward.
After posting a career high in goals (20), assists (30) and points (50) in 2013-14, Kadri has posted totals of 18G, 21A, 39PTS in 2014-15 and currently sits at 12G, 23A, 35PTS through 62 games played this season.
With Kadri, 25, finally putting together a reasonable defensive game and exhibiting a more consistent compete level, it is apparent that Kadri can be an effective player at the NHL level.
That said, what do the Maple Leafs have in Kadri?
Clearly, he is not a first line player and, while effective on some nights as a second line centre, it appears as if his time may be limited in that role.
The Toronto Maple Leafs two top prospects are William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Both players’ natural position is centre. While neither player is a lock to play centre at the NHL level, it would appear as if Nylander is going to be given every opportunity to play centre.
Marner, while talented, may be better suited to the wing at the NHL level due to his size, or lack thereof.
Should the Maple Leafs nab highly touted centre Auston Matthews in this summers NHL Entry Draft, there is the potential that, after not having any serious options down the middle, that the Maple Leafs might just have a logjam at centre.
Adding Matthews to the mix would give the Maple Leafs a number of options at centre, including the likes of Matthews, Nylander, Marner, Kadri, Leo Komarov, Tyler Bozak, Brooks Laich and Frederik Gauthier.
Assuming Matthews and Nylander would be the Maple Leafs’ future 1-2 punch down the middle, the Maple Leafs are still left with a ton of options down the middle.
Komarov (who speaks four languages, including Russian) is an invaluable player in that he has the potential to be a great influence on Russian-Born youngsters Nikita Soshnikov and Dmytro Timashov— two players that may be key cogs in the Maple Leafs’ growth over the next five seasons.
While Komarov can play both centre and wing, he would be an excellent third line option for the Maple Leafs.
Laich has one year left on his contract and, while he has only been here a short time, looks to be a great choice as a player that will assume a veteran role with a team that will employ a ton of young players in their lineup.
Laich could also serve as a third line option, but given his age and his defensive abilities, he is probably better suited as a short-term option as Toronto’s fourth line centre.
Bozak has been a tremendous faceoff man for the Leafs. He is a veteran player who is well liked, but he carries a lofty contract which makes him expendable. While it may be tough to deal Bozak, anything is possible.
Originally drafted in the first round (21st overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, Frederik Gauthier projects as the Maple Leafs future shutdown centre on the fourth line.
Playing with the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, Gauthier has demonstrated a strong ability on the penalty kill, good faceoff abilities (he was also the top faceoff man with Team Canada at the World Juniors), good skating abilities, a high hockey IQ, good two-way instincts and the size (6’5”, 215 pounds) to thrive as a fourth line centre/PK specialist.
When you analyze all of the Maple Leafs options, it would appear that Matthews, Nylander, Komarov and Laich (in the short term) and Gauthier (in the long term), would be the best choices down the middle.
Of course, it should be noted that Kadri is a Restricted Free Agent this summer, which complicates matters. On the other hand, perhaps this is the key to Kadri’s future?
Signed to a one-year, $4.1 million deal this summer, the Maple Leafs essentially gave Kadri this season to prove to them that he was worth a long term contract extension.
While Kadri’s overall game has improved, it is very clear that he is not a first line centre and, with Nylander, Marner and Matthews perhaps in the lineup next season, it would appear as if Kadri’s only option with the Maple Leafs would be to accept a lesser contract and assume a role as the teams third line centre.
That’s a lot to ask a player who, in my mind, feels he is a viable option as a number two centre.
Given his success in the AHL this season, I think most of us are confident that Nylander will be with the big club next season. With Matthews playing with men in Europe this season and putting up very respectable numbers under the guidance of former NHL coach Marc Crawford, he looks to be a good bet to make the NHL out of training camp this fall.
That leaves Kadri to A) play a role as a winger on one of the top-two lines. Or, B) accept a role as the teams’ number three centre.
If the Maple Leafs are looking for Kadri to play third line minutes, he would also have to accept third line money, which would likely mean a pay-cut in the neighborhood of $1 million to a contract in the $3 million per region.
Would Kadri accept such a deal? Could Kadri be effective as a third line centre/with reduced minutes?
To be honest, a 2-3 year deal in the $10-12 million range would seem fair for Kadri’s services, and his addition to the roster would, in fact, make the Maple Leafs a better team. But only if Kadri was willing to assume a lesser role.
Kadri has the ability to be a physical player, he draws penalties, he could be a pest and he could be an effective second-tier scoring threat.
Keeping Kadri in the mix would give the Maple Leafs a good option should Nylander, Matthews and/or Marner not be ready for prime time. Kadri would also serve as a good option should a player succumb to injury or endure a scoring slump for an extended period of time.
For the Maple Leafs, re-signing Kadri to a short-term, mid-money contract makes a lot of sense. Anything more than that will likely spell an end to Kadri’s time as a member of the Blue and White.
And then there are the rumors of Steven Stamkos coming to Toronto. Could you imagine Toronto’s depth at centre should Lou Lamoriello pull that off? But with so much uncertainty surrounding Stamkos’ future, I digress…
If you were Toronto Maple Leafs general manager, Lou Lamoriello, what would you do with Kadri this summer?
Trade? or Sign?