What Happened To Nazem Kadri’s Penalty Drawing Ability?

Over the past few years, Nazem Kadri has been one of the best players in the NHL at drawing penalties.  This was widely talked about among hockey’s analytics community for a while, but last year the idea really seemed to break through, as it became a topic of conversation in far more mainstream sources, including TSN and Sportsnet’s national broadcasts.  It seemed like Kadri was finally getting credit for an under-rated skill that he was very good at.

But this year that ability has largely dried up.  Many nights it’s seemed like opposition players are able to get away with murder against Kadri without the Leafs being awarded a powerplay.  So what’s happened?  And how steep has the drop-off been, really?


Nazem Kadri’s penalty drawing ability has had significant value in previous seasons.  One attempt to put a specific number on that value estimated that he provided the Leafs with 3.25 extra goals in 2014/15 just from his penalty drawing ability.  That might not sound like much, but that’s worth about one point in the standings, and that’s just from penalty drawing alone; it doesn’t take into account any other value he adds.

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Kadri’s ability in this regard has consistently ranked him at or near the top of the NHL.  Here are the top 20 players in terms of penalties drawn per 60 minutes of 5v5 play between 2013-14 and 2015-16:

Player GP Drawn/60
NAZEM.KADRI 227 1.81
TOM.WILSON 231 1.80
ZAC.RINALDO 177 1.72
RYAN.CARTER 175 1.50
DARREN.HELM 194 1.39
LANCE.BOUMA 200 1.29
COREY.PERRY 230 1.25

Not only did Kadri rank at the top of the league, but he was way ahead of most of the pack.  Only five other players even drew penalties 80% as frequently as Nazem over those three seasons, and by the end of the Top 20, we’re already at players drawing penalties about 2/3 as often.

But there’s another important element, which is penalty taking.  After all, if the goal is to find out which players are giving their team the biggest advantage, you have to take out their own penalties and see who has the best differential.  So here are the top 20 players by penalty differential over the same time period:

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Player GP Diff/60
TJ.GALIARDI 100 0.98
DARREN.HELM 194 0.97
NAZEM.KADRI 227 0.76
LANCE.BOUMA 200 0.67
ERIK.COLE 143 0.61

So Kadri falls down the list a bit to 7th, but this list starts to make way more sense than the one we saw above.  Most of the players near the top of the first list also take a ton of penalties, so guys like Tom Wilson and Zac Rinaldo completely fall off the list when you look at differential instead of just penalties drawn.  And now we’re seeing the kinds of guys we’d expect, as the list is largely comprised of speedy, shifty players who you’d think would be good at this kind of thing.

But something changed this season.  Let’s compare Kadri’s numbers this season to the previous three:

Season GP Drawn/60 Taken/60 Diff/60
2013-14 78 1.63 1.01 0.62
2014-15 73 1.68 0.60 1.08
2015-16 76 2.13 1.51 0.62
2016-17 35 1.18 1.44 -0.26

There are a few things going on here.  The first is that Kadri has taken significantly more penalties the past two seasons; his rate of penalties taken at 5v5 more than doubled between 2014-15 and 2015-16, and that higher rate has continued this season. 

The second important thing here is that Kadri’s rate of penalty drawing has fallen dramatically.  In fact, it’s fallen nearly in half from last season, and it’s nearly 1/3 lower than the year before that.

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Because of this, Kadri has gone from one of the top players in the league in terms of penalty differential to being a net negative.  While he had the 7th best penalty differential rate from 2013-14 to 2015-16, this year he’s way down in 328th of the 555 players with at least 200 minutes of ice time this season, well in the bottom half of the league.  That’s a massive drop.


So how did Nazem Kadri go from being one of the league’s best penalty drawers to being a net negative in penalty differential in such a short span of time?

The simplest explanation would be that his reputation has caught up with him.  Kadri’s been known as an embellisher for a while, and other teams have likely complained about it.  And the league has called him on it as well.  Last season he was cited by the NHL for diving on three occasions, and paid fines totalling $5,000.  

It’s even possible that all the attention paid to Kadri’s penalty drawing has become a problem.  Once it started to become more widely known that Kadri was drawing penalties at such an incredibly high rate, other teams may have been more likely to complain, and the NHL may have taken more notice as well.

Perhaps it’s inevitable that for a player like Kadri, their reputation is eventually going to start causing problems.  If that’s true, we should see the same thing happen to the previous king of penalty drawing – Dustin Brown.  Brown’s penalty drawing ability has been widely remarked upon – see for example this article by Eric Tulsky.  So we might expect to see Brown’s penalty arc to mirror Kadri’s, since it’s far from a secret that Brown also embellishes.  What does his career look like?

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Season Age Drawn/60 Taken/60 Diff/60
2007-08 23 2.19 0.79 1.41
2008-09 24 3.10 0.82 2.28
2009-10 25 2.50 0.65 1.85
2010-11 26 1.57 0.84 0.73
2011-12 27 1.84 0.74 1.10
2012-13 28 1.29 0.83 0.46
2013-14 29 1.46 0.73 0.73
2014-15 30 1.30 0.51 0.79
2015-16 31 0.73 0.68 0.06
2016-17 32 0.58 0.72 -0.14

This doesn’t really look like Kadri’s arc.  What it looks more like is a standard player aging curve: peak around ages 23-25, with a slow drop-off throughout the late 20s, followed by a sharp decline in the 30s.  Aside from the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Dustin Brown remained one of the league’s best penalty drawers for close to a decade.  His penalty differential only really falls off as his level of play declines in general.  It’s also worth noting that Brown never sees the huge spike in penalties taken that Kadri has.  While Brown’s rate of penalty drawing has slowly fallen off, his rate of taking penalties has been remarkably consistent, even falling a bit over time.

Kadri, by contrast, is only 26.  He’s in the prime of his career, and is on-pace for a career high in goals and to match his previous best in points.  He remains a positive player in terms of Corsi Rel despite being given much more difficult minutes this season.  Kadri’s still a valuable player who’s other skills show no evidence of decline.  It’s just his penalty differential that’s getting worse.  It’s clear that on some level the league has caught up with him, and he just isn’t getting the calls he used to get.  But penalty drawing is a repeatable skill, so there’s no reason to believe Kadri’s decline this year was inevitable.

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  • Harte of a Lion

    Great article Draglikepull, thanks for the research and putting everything into simple English. I have not missed a game, either on TV, radio or in attendance in years and it appears to me that Kadri is taking more penalties due to the QOC he faces however the refs seem to have decided unless Kadri loses an appendage or is gushing blood, there is no call.

  • tealeaves

    I’m not sure if I’m reading this correctly, are you suggesting that Kadri say unlike Brown has too overtly embellished during his career which explains the “massive” beyond what is expected penalty drop off? Basically you are saying it is Kadri’s fault the refs are not giving him calls because Kadri has made the refs look bad so often earlier.

  • Stan Smith

    I enjoy reading articles like this that are a little, what I would call, off the beaten path.

    I think it’s obvious that once a player gets a reputation for embellishment that the refs are going to be more hesitant to call penalties involving him, just like Kadri has gained a reputation for running goalies, so now gets called in pretty much any contact.

    With Brown being a player that draws penalties, it makes me ask, has he been penalized for embellishment? If he hasn’t it makes me think he either just draws them because of his hard work, or is better at hiding the embellishment.

    It also make sense that with Kadri’s new found role as the shutdown, bug the crap out of the the other teams #1 offensive threat, that he is going to get more penalties himself.

    Regardless of what the reasons, to me Kadri has finally found his niche under Babcock, and if he can keep it up, will play an important part of the rebuild.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      Like you I enjoy reading articles on the Leafs that are off the beaten path.

      What I do find surprising for a site calling itself LeafNation there is a lack of meat and potato articles. We get a probable lineup about one hour before the game. We get a postmortem of the game usually about 3 or 4 hours after the game. There is nothing about what the Leafs are up to on days they are not playing. Things like what is going on in practice. An example would be, everyone has an opinion on Frank Corrado. No one seems to know what he is actually doing. Is he practicing with Gardiner? Is he practicing with Hunwick? Is Corrado simply skating on his own with other guys not expected to dress? We are into January and no one here knows.Or if they do they are not saying. Is Nylander playing center in practice? Recently we have seen a few line up changes due to injury. Leafs looked and played pretty well with those sudden changes. Anything happening on that score. I know the practices are not normally open to the public. I thought people with press passes could observe them. Knowing some of these things would give us more insight on what to expect in the future. What’s Leivo doing? Who is he playing with. I don’t expect someone to show up at every practice. Once in a while it would be nice to have a clue what’s going on there.

      • Stan Smith

        I can’t say this for sure, but I think in most cases the majority of writers on these blogs all have full time jobs outside of the blog, and the main qualifications they have are a passion for the Leafs and an ability to write. I’m not sure what access they even have to the actual team. It would be good to know more about the day to day operations of the team, what happens at practice, etc. and at one time you could get that info easy enough. For some reason you just don’t see it as much anymore.

        If someone that is reading this knows a source for info like that please let us know.

      • Harte of a Lion

        Luke, part of the ‘silence’ is due to Shanahan and a Lamoriello limiting the media access to the team and players. Though I would love more Leaf info, if it means that Simmons the meat head and Feschfuck the Feschfuck can’t shit disturb I’m willing to accept that.

  • DukesRocks

    Great article that addresses what most leaf fans have been thinking “there’s a bias against Kadri”. I mostly blame the media for this officiating bias against Kadri. If it weren’t for the media boasting last year “Kadri is making the refs look like fools”, we would not be having this conversation. I clearly remember Kadri being crosschecked from behind into the boards against Boston and Babs calling out the refs out saying, ENOUGH. This is the price Leaf players pay for being the biggest sport in the city. The Leafs are under a microscope and every detail for their play is amplified. This is partly why Brown never regressed in drawing penalties because hockey takes a back seat down south.

    It got to the point where Kadri was called for embellishment similar to the Nylander call in Florida. Where as a fan, you throw up your arms with the, “WTF” expression. The double slash to the leg against Calgary last year comes to mind and the stick to the groin (can’t remember the team) this year.

    This year I’ve seen key blatant non-calls against Kadri at critical times of the game. The slew foot against the Caps resulting in a goal and the trip against the Habs, with the Leaf goalie pulled to try and tie the game.

    The last point and I don’t want to go there but I will (Kadri vs Brown)… could be a colour thing. People may say I’m off base here but after seeing some of the people that voted for Trump and the hate for Muslims, it’s not out of the question.

        • espo

          G2 you’re off base. Dukes, i dont think you’re too far off on the appearance factor. Not necessarily sure its a race thing, but Naz does just look whiny. Dangle’s “punchable face theory” at work perhaps?

          The officiating has also just been sliding in general IMO since video replay came in on offside calls. Lack of accountability leading to a dip in performance.

          • DukesRocks

            I guess you can say whiny… to me he looks like a mouse but does the job of a rat and has the heart of a lion lol.

            You’re right, I wouldn’t say it’s full blown racism, but in some games I feel there a subtle hint of bias that has nothing to do with reputation. Before Babs came to Tdot, the Media was all over Kadri, in some cases I found the negativity unjustified, which made’s you wonder… why? Players in the NFL and NBA are trying to bring awareness to the issue and that the problem with racism exist, no matter how much we want to sweep it under the carpet. I would like to poll all Leaf fans and ask them a simple question. Currently: Who is the leader of the Leafs? The answer should be Kadri. He does the dirty work and doesn’t let his size get in the way of being a force on the ice. Do you think the Leafs brass would give the Capaincy to Kadri? Most likely they’ll wait for Mathews/Marner or give it to Rielly. And I don’t have a problem with that, bringing down walls takes time. Just like when we went through the infusion of European players, staring with guys like Salming. The abuse they had to go through during the early days were hard but they persevered.

            Currently we live in the greatest city when it comes to diversity and as a whole Canadians tend to be open and welcoming to immigrants. This exposure to cultures has strengthen our tolerances and resolve for one and other but there’s still more work to be done and walls to be torn down.

          • LukeDaDrifter

            I understand where you are coming from regarding racism in sports. Everyone knows it does exist to some degree with certain people.

            The problem with that argument regarding Kadri all of a sudden not drawing penalties or letting fouls against him go uncalled, and instead now getting called for embellishment has no basis in fact, Most people and I am sure you are one of them,feel the refs have a long running vendetta against Kadri for his past performances. .

          • DukesRocks

            Yeah for sure the foundation for the bias has nothing to do with racism. As I stated, this all started with the spotlight the media put on Kadri. Now he’s paying for it. How long it last or ends, who know? But like I said a month back the refs are playing a dangerious game. If the refs allow liberties on Kadri without repercussion, it could lead to injuries because the ref wasn’t doing his job. This is the risk the NHL is taking by not calling infractions on Kadri.

          • LukeDaDrifter

            That is not the only risk the NHL is taking. Their point was to stop the diving and keep integrity in the game. By not calling blatant penalties on certain players it defeats their own agenda.

          • DukesRocks

            Totally agree. I think your right the refs have sorta eased up on Kadri. I don’t know if Leafs brass have had discussion with the league on the matter but recently Kadri has drawn some penalties.

          • LukeDaDrifter

            PS. The guy who called you a moron was wrong, If he felt you were incorrect then he should have pointed out where or why he felt that way, If he is a regular reader here he should have known you always post thoughtful comments.

  • LukeDaDrifter

    It is simple really. Kadri along with others were embellishing the penalties. The NHL asked the referees to clamp down on this as it does bring the league into disrepute. As we all know hockey is not the only sport that has this problem. The refs were happy to comply as it was making them look incompetent as well. I think Kadri also started mouthing off to the refs whenever he received an embellishment call. Once you get a reputation for being a jerk to the refs you should expect to pay the price. Babcock seems to have explained it to Kadri in a way he understands. Babcock should be the one taking he heat for yelling at the refs, not the players. Unfortunately it has been at least a year now since Kadri stopping embellishing and complaining about the calls, but many of the referees continue to punish him. It does seem like it may be easing up somewhat. If referees want some respect they need to show some respect themselves.

    A better way to call embellishment would be to only call they diver and not the other guy too.
    Give the diver 2 minutes for diving and tack on another 2 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. That would stop the whole problem dead in it’s tracks.

      • LukeDaDrifter

        It should only be called like other penalties. Only when blatantly obvious. I have seen a lot of incorrect calls this year by referees. At least a couple of 4 minute highsticking calls when it was really the wrong teams stick that was blamed. That Nylander embellishing call after seeing the replay seems to be a big mistake. I can only surmise from the referees angle it did look like an embellishment. It was a very odd spin Nylander went into to keep on his skates. I certainly would like to ask the ref to look at the replay and explain what it was he saw from his angle.


          • LukeDaDrifter

            I keep looking at the gif. I can see the ref skating backwards off to the left. I can’t see how he could of possibly thought that was embellishment. I wonder where the other ref was? Could he have been the one to make the ridiculous embellishment call?

  • SmellOfVictory

    I suppose like all things in the NHL the Commission and the Refs may feel they have been used and abused and are retaliating. Then again it may be that all parts of the business that ooze class no longer wish to have such a tasteless act committed by someone claiming to be an elite player. Just sayin