What to pay Nazem Kadri?

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Here’s a good question: What’s Nazem Kadri worth?

Not in the sense of dollars and cents, but how long should the Toronto Maple Leafs choose to commit to their young centreman? In the latest Leaf Report podcast, James Mirtle and Jonas Siegel begin talking about Kadri at around the 20-minute mark, and James says that it could be a tough negotiation between the Leafs and Kadri and the likelihood of a contract holdout, in my view, is pretty high.

That’s not a real good thing, and it increases the chance that Dave Nonis and the Leafs could sign somebody in the offseason as “Kadri insurance” in case this thing stretches well into October.

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Here’s what’s James had to say:

I think it’s going to be a tough negotiation. I think it’s probably a negotiation that runs right up, probably runs right up to training camp. I’d be surprised if they can get a deal done really easily, because I think Kadri’s side is going to want a big contract after he’s been earning AHL money for a long time. The Leafs are going to be very very wary that the Kadri we saw over the last 15 or 20 games of the season is the one that they’re going to get.

So I think Dave Nonis is going to be pretty cautious to overpay this guy.

I don’t disagree with him in the slightest. Kadri is going to look at a few long second contracts (Jordan Eberle, for instance) while the Leafs will want a bridge deal, one that looks more like P.K. Subban’s contract. In case you’ve forgotten, Eberle was signed to a six-year, $36-million deal last summer and Subban held out into the season and settled for a two-year, $5.75-million deal.

There are few players that you open up the chequebook to for their second contract, I’ve come to realize. I wouldn’t for Eberle or Kadri, but I would for Subban, a player whose underlying numbers as a young defenceman were unparalleled after his brilliant 2012 and 2011 campaigns on really average Habs groups. The Canadiens are going to end up paying a lot more money for him next summer because he’ll have possibly one Norris Trophy under his belt and is turning out to be the most popular player on the team.

For Eberle, or Kadri, you have to be a bit more careful. It bears repeating, but the Leafs scored on 14.44% of shots with Kadri on the ice this season. I think Eberle is a pretty good comp, even if they play different positions, because he also had an unsustainable shooting percentage in his contract year. Tyler Dellow at mc79hockey wrote lots of good material about Eberle going into his second contract, focusing on Eberle’s high On-Ice Sh%, which was 12.84% in 2012:

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The list of guys who managed to put up 10%+ over the past five years at ES, again with a 3000 minute threshold, is even shorter: 13 players long. Sidney Crosby, Alex Tanguay, Marian Gaborik, Steve Stamkos, Bobby Ryan, JP Dumont, Evgeni Malkin, Henrik Sedin, Steve Downie, Nathan Horton, Daniel Sedin and Jason Spezza. Some of those guys aren’t true talent 10% types – Steve Downie strikes me as pretty unlikely to be one.

That post can be found here.

Obviously, Eberle ‘struggled’ in 2013, compared to his 2012 numbers. His On-Ice Sh% returned to normal at 8.78%, and Eberle became a worth 63 points over an 82-game season, not the 76-points-in-78-games he was in that 2012 year. It more closely resembled the first year of his career, where he put up 43 points in 69 games.

Nonis, unlike Steve Tambellini, is a bit more conservative when it comes to contracts, which bodes well for the Leafs. Also working in the Leafs’ favour is the fact that Kadri, who had 39 points in the team’s first 36 games, put up just 9 in his last 18 including playoffs. There’s lots of reason for the Leafs to be skeptical on this guy.

This is a litmus test for Nonis. I don’t think that Kadri is a player that you can expect to put up a point every second game, but I also don’t think that Kadri is a player that you can expect to put up a point a game. The answer, as always when dealing with two extremes, lies somewhere in between. He’s probably a 55 to 60-point guy going forward, which still puts him in the conversation among top-line centres in the NHL (and I do think he’s the guy the Leafs ought to have on their top line with Phil Kessel, regardless of what Tyler Bozak does).

A bridge contract, two years or so, wherein Kadri is a full-time NHL player for each year is in the interest of the Leafs however. It’s important to know exactly what they have before committing to a guy like Kadri, whose best moments in the NHL so far have been on sheltered third lines with a lot of offensive zone faceoffs and a high on-ice shooting percentage that is, unfortunately, unsustainable. Going the Edmonton route and giving him a long contract simply based on 36 games is a recipe for salary cap disaster.

So this will be a fun deal to follow throughout the summer. Of all the RFA deals the Leafs have to sign, this is the one that I think has the best chance to stretch into the season. Also up for new deals are Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, Leo Komarov and Joe Colborne. Depending on your philosophy, Mark Fraser is also an important RFA to sign. His negotiation should go a lot faster.

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  • millzy09

    With cap going down I’m not sure how useful past comparables will be.

    That said, the options are a gagner or duchene in a 2 year bridge contract in the 3.5M range. Besides, Eberle and Hall with a 6M x6 year contract another comparable is JVR who has a 4.25M x6 year contract. There is also Taveres at 5.5M x 6 years.

    And between a 4.25M x 6yr contract and a 3.5M x 2year contract I would lock Kadri at 4.5M range for the 6 years.

  • millzy09

    The other note about Kadri’s SH% is many of his wingers had high SH% as well (frattin, lupul and even Orr). This suggest his assists will also regress next season with his goals as his wingers regress. This is similar to Macarthur who never matched the assists in his 60 point season when Kulemin and Grabbo both struggled to score.

    Also looking at capgeek how did the leafs lock up Bozak at 1.5M two years ago.

  • millzy09

    My best guess is he signs a 2 or maybe 3 year deal in the neighborhood of $2.5-3M. Grabovski got a 3 year deal with a $2.9M cap hit after a good first season in Toronto. The same sort of thing seems reasonable for Kadri.

    The alternative is something like what Flyers gave JVR – 6yrs $4.25M average but rising throughout the contract. Not sure the Leafs would want to go that route but it might be worth considering. I suppose they did the same thing with Schenn so maybe Nonis is open to it. I would be open to that if it was in the $3.5-4M range. Makes no sense to go higher than that.

  • millzy09

    I made this point to you last yr. Kadri needs to play at centre and he needs to be allowed to make mistakes without having to worry about being demoted. I also said he needed to play higher up on line 1 or 2 because he has always been the best centre on whatever team he was on. I see a lot of negatives in this article and its a continuation of the go to critiques of Kadri over the yrs. Well he more or less got that chance this season, albeit a short chance. But he delivered, yes he wasn’t great every game, show me a rookie or young player that is. I think your upside for him is too low. If he is used correctly, like on the first line with good linemates and is on the number one pp unit his upside is more like 75-80 pts. I agree the sample size is too small to throw a 30 million dollar contract at him. However, he has the skills to be a number one centre, a true one, not like Bozak, although I like Bozak, just not on the first line. Kadri has unique vision, above average speed, and soft hands with a little bit of grit. Those players don’t often wear a blue Maple Leaf on their jersey so I think the Leafs should worry less about the amount of the contract and worry about the length. The best for both sides is a large dollar short term contract. 2-3 yrs but at a steeper price, say 4-4.5 million per average, maybe even 5 mil. If he turns out to be real bad after 2 seasons, a 4-5 mil buyout is not the end of the world, he gets paid for paying his dues in the minors when he should probably have been with the team all of 11-12. If he turns into a top 10-20 scorer, then he’s still RFA at the end of this contract and you can pay him his huge money long term deal. His second contract should be something along the lines of what Kessel signed for in T.O. but maybe a little less per yr and a shorter term.

    • millzy09

      Cam isn’t really critiquing Kadri, he’s more pointing out the obvious fact that Kadri’s On ice shooting percentage will not be 14% next year. It will probably regress significantly.

      There are a lot of positives about Kadri. Throughout his career (warning small sample size) he has been a very good possession forward (+10 rel corsi/60 in every season). So he’s a good forward, but expect a down season (relative to expectations of the average fan and the MSM) because his on ice shooting percentage will regress.

  • millzy09

    Shooting percentage can be skewed too. It might go down a little or a lot or not at all. If it drops he still might score more if he starts and stays on the number one line and gets the relevant ice time that comes with it. His ice time should go up, he should for the most part play with better players for more games this coming year. Also there is more to offence than shooting percentage. Say his shooting percentage drops by half but he shoots more and ends up setting up 60 goals. To me an assist is just as good as a goal, I never considered Kadri’s scoring ability in just goals. About the only thing that will keep him off the top line next year will be his faceoffs, it’s one of his biggest weaknesses. I say the Leafs need not waste money or prospects/picks for a number one centre, they already have one in Kadri. I think Colburn will make the jump full time next season. After he and McKeg there isn’t much in the pipeline at centre. Still I think Kadri and Colbourn will be 1 and 3, or 2 and 3 or maybe Jumbo Joe goes on to be the 2nd centre one day. They will be the cornerstone at centre for the next decade, trading for a centre that is as good or better than kadri would be very expensive. He’s not as good as Tavaris, but he is close, one notch or half a notch down. He is the best home grown centre since I don’t know when. Maybe Sitler.