The Leafs season is coming to a close and with that a
gloriously long window of time to begin negotiating contracts on the free
agents the Leafs would like to see return, or at the very least are
uncomfortable seeing them walk away for nothing. One of those deals that
probably won’t get done in that window is Nazem Kadri’s next contract.
It’s not that the Leafs won’t be bringing Nazem back. It’s
pretty foolish for them to not do that, barring an incredible trade offer. It’s
not that they won’t be actively negotiating with him. At the very least I’d
assume both sides already know the starting points of their opposition. It’s
that Kadri is arbitration eligible, and if the Leafs elect arbitration with
him, they get a second buyout window later this summer. That’s likely something
that Brandon Pridham and Lou Lamoriello put a high value on.
So while news around Kadri’s contract is likely going to be
incredibly scarce, there’s no reason why we can’t begin speculating on what
will get done.
Comparables by Draft Year…
Kadri’s draft year has a few forwards to draw comparison to.
We’ll excuse John Tavares from this exercise, but use Ryan O’Reilly and Matt
Duchene as the high end comparables, and Marcus Johansson and Brayden Schenn as
the lower end comparisons. For the sake of an additional comparison I’ll
include Evander Kane despite being a winger, but because of the nearly
identical points per game numbers and the similar style Kadri and Kane play.
Looking at his draft class comparables, there really isn’t
anything great to draw from here. O’Reilly has an absolutely insane deal from
Buffalo, Duchene’s is pretty reasonable, but for Duchene who is a better
offensive talent that Kadri. Kane’s deal is older and was largely based off of
his potential as a top four pick and he failed to meet those expectations, and
Schenn and Johansson will be joining Kadri in the free agency class this summer
and assuming they get done first, could be the benchmark for Naz.
At this point, Evander Kane’s deal seems like the most
reasonable direction for the Leafs to go in, but Kane’s deal itself doesn’t
reflect Kadri’s situation.
Looking at some top six forwards in the later ages of
restricted free agency who have signed deals in the past couple of years, it
appears that Kadri may not be as prolific a scorer as some of them, although he
plays on a much less talented team than most of them. He also doesn’t have as
high a relative Corsi For%, which again, the argument can be made that Kadri’s
line is often looked at to shut down the top competition in the league while
having an inexperienced defense and below average goaltending behind him.
Nonetheless, this is a small sample of Kadri’s peer group,
and with the exception of Derek Stepan’s contract, it seems perfectly reasonable
for Nazem to sign for something that isn’t horrific.
Considering that Kadri was already making $4.1M this year,
it’s probably unlikely that he’s taking a paycut, even with the Leafs likely to
go the club elected arbitration route. As a result, you can scratch the
Backlund and Gallagher contract pipedreams from consideration. Both the
Anisimov and Smith contracts look to be fair and reasonable deals and even the
Nyquist deal as the high end wouldn’t be a horrible route to go.
For fun, I also decided to take a look at the Corisa.Hockey
comparables for Kadri using the Similarity Calculator.
Based off of their default fields, I ran it for the last three years of Kadri’s
career and got the following comparables…
Yikes to some of those names on the list. Also, we’re
basically looking at UFAs as comparisons, but here we go anyway…
Okay, so nothing really here from a comparison standpoint.
These would all be on the high side for Kadri, and they all look like
regrettable contracts. Maybe the telling thing of all this is that the Leafs
are better off to lock up Kadri long term now, avoid arbitration at all costs,
and find the middle ground that is in that Craig Smith to Artem Anisimov range.
Term vs. Arbitration
vs. Expansion Draft
The best deal for the Leafs is likely going long term with
Kadri. He’s been resistant to injuries despite playing an aggressive style.
He’s consistently put up numbers that are in line with a good second line
player, and when given more talented linemates to work with, he’s improved.
He’s a versatile player who can become the Leafs 3rd line center if
they are suddenly overrun with depth at the position (what a wonderful dream)
or he could be moved to wing and continue to a solid top six forward.
Even if the Leafs don’t see Kadri as part of their future,
he arguably has more value being traded with term on a good contract than being
dealt as a rental.
Counter to all that is the fact that we are one year out
from Kadri being an UFA and there also being an expansion draft. If you see
value in having Kadri head into the expansion draft as an unprotected free
agent, and then attempting to sign him after that, you might pay more in
salary, but you have the ability to protect one other forward on the Leafs
because of this move.
At the moment it doesn’t look like the Leafs would be
leaving anyone significant off their protected list, so this is just thinking
out loud. Personally I’d rather be able to have Kadri on a cheaper long term
deal than gain the ability to protect Peter Holland, if they couldn’t already.
The arbitration factor is also something worth touching on
here. The Leafs have the potential to go with club elected arbitration,
something that gives them more flexibility throughout the offseason. If they
need to shed a contract for an additional SPC, that’s their chance. If they
haven’t bought out Jared Cowen yet, that’s when they are going to do it. It’s
something that matters.
However, there is the small matter of leverage that it gives
to Nazem Kadri. Kadri has the opportunity to play the arbitration situation out
completely if elected and land him on a one year deal taking him to
unrestricted free agency. As history has taught us, unrestricted free agency
will either cost the Leafs more or potentially have a top six player leaving
for no return, both alternatives aren’t great. It’s because of this that Kadri
will have a bit of additional leverage on the Leafs to probably get more than
people would generally be comfortable with. Maybe instead of that Anisimov cap
hit we’re talking about a front loaded version of Nyquist’s cap hit.
Again, since Kadri also has the option to select
arbitration, this doesn’t change a whole lot, but is a potential outcome worth
Center depth has been an issue with the Leafs for a long
time, and we’re just now starting to see the Leafs build some depth despite the
huge question mark that remains in the number one spot. By his numbers, Kadri’s
been a good fit, especially compared to his predecessor.
Kadri’s game goes beyond the scoresheet, and his at times
dirty style of hockey adds an element that Leafs have been able to use to their
The idea of going beyond a five year deal with anyone that
isn’t a young, elite talent is a risk, and while Kadri is very good, he’s not
at that highest level of the game. The idea of getting Kadri for around
$4.25M-$4.75M for 4 or 5 years seems like a reasonable option and possibly the
best fit for the Leafs. A salary cap that is staying relatively flat should aid
Toronto in achieving that goal.