(Editor’s note: Pat Keogh is a friend of the blog and a Rangers writer at both @BlueSeatBlogs and @BlueshirtBanter. He likes Nazem Kadri and wants him on his favourite hockey team. He does not want Nazem Kadri traded from the Leafs, unless he ends up playing at Madison Square Garden.)
As we begin to gear up for the 2017-2018 NHL season, some teams still find themselves wanting certain key pieces to fill out their lineup. For the New York Rangers, this means finding a center to replace the recently departed Derek Stepan (who was sent to Arizona alongside Antti Raanta in return for the 7th overall pick and Anthony DeAngelo), a young, consistent points producer with excellent two way play to back it up.
Although there is an outside chance the 7th overall pick, Lias Andersson, makes the team and slots into the 3C position, bumping Kevin Hayes up to 2C and Mika Zibanejad as 1C, the more desirable scenario is one in which they trade from a position of strength in return for a veritable top-six center. Adding that player, alongside their revamped defense, would help to prop their Cup window open just a little bit longer in an effort to get King Henrik his elusive crown.
The Leafs find themselves in something of a different position, with the early success of this rebuild leading them to make a big gamble on free agent Patrick Marleau. The hope here is that the potential the young team showed in the playoffs against the dominant but ultimately unsuccessful Washington Capitals can be not only sustained but built upon, cracking open this window earlier than expected and then leaving it open for the foreseeable future. It’s an exciting time to be a Leafs fan but still they lack a certain je nais se quoi on defense, with the squad needing an extra defenseman or two to make this team a no-joke contender.
While New York and Toronto might not initially seem like a natural match as trading partners, the fact that Auston Matthews has emerged as such a dominant down-the-middle threat and the Rangers suddenly being flush with defensive prospects means things could actually make sense here. If the Rangers are serious about acquiring a solid two-way center they should look no further than Nazem Kadri, although it would mean losing one of their untouchables, the young up and coming defenseman Brady Skjei.
Let’s start off with the name you might all be less familiar with. Brady Skjei is a 23-year-old left-side defenseman (although he can play right) who spent most of his year tethered to Kevin Klein and still managed to put up 39 points in 80 games played.
Having developed as a shutdown defenseman with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, the smooth-skating d-man began to shine on both ends of the ice this past season once the Rangers acquired Brendan Smith and made the two regular partners. Rangers fans, in their infinite coaching frustration, will marvel you with the tale of how he scored 2 goals in the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators only to be benched as the team was defending their lead late in the 3rd period, with the Blueshirts blowing it and losing the game.
Delving a little bit more into the numbers demonstrates that Skjei is in fact, the real deal even this early on in his development. Although he only had a 50.50 CF% last year with the Rangers, this needs to be couched in context. First of all, he spent considerable time with the aforementioned Kevin Klein, he of recent retirement, and second of all, the Rangers in general were a poor possession team. Looking at his relative numbers paints a much prettier picture – his CF% relative to his teammates last season was 3.84%, his percentage of scoring chances for relative to his teammates was 2.29, and his High Danger Chances For % relative to teammates was 3.05.
To further emphasize how well he performed in context, of the 13 Rangers with whom he spent more than 200 minutes on ice with all of them saw increases in the CF% when paired with Skjei compared to without for an average CF% bump of 4.22%. Skjei is already a high caliber second pairing defenseman at the age of 23 and will only get better as time goes on.
Now Leafs fans need not be educated on the wonders of Nazem Kadri, but for my Rangers folks reading this it’s worth diving into his numbers as well to demonstrate just how good he is. Kadri is a talented two-way player, with his CA/60 relative to his teammates coming in at -0.27, right between Sidney Crosby and Leon Draisaitl.
His relative percentages too speak to his ability, with his CFrel% of 1.28 putting him in between Trevor Lewis and Claude Giroux, his Scoring Chances For percentage relative to teammates of 1.79 putting him just below Mark Scheifele and above Ryan Kesler, and his HDCF% relative to teammates of 1.02 tying him with Joe Pavelski. As far as Kadri’s WOWYs go, of the 8 players Kadri spent more than 200 minutes of icetime with only one of them was better in terms of CF% with Kadri off the ice – the wunderkind William Nylander. The average distance those 8 teammates CF%s jumped, with Willie’s -1.76 on/off differential included was 2.45%. Just as a comparison, the center most Rangers fans immediately jump to when considering Stepan’s replacement is Matt Duchene, whose relative Corsi, scoring chances, and high danger scoring chances percentages were 1.06, 0.24 and 4.15 repsectively. Suffice to say that if the Rangers front office is looking at Duchene they should also be looking at Kadri.
Now the bigger question for both teams, beyond the numbers and comparisons, is why on earth they would want to make this trade. The Leafs have considerable center depth topped off by ex-Ranger beloved Dominic Moore and no real pressure to trade Kadri, who’s on a team-friendly contract. Similarly, the Rangers have a 39-point defenseman with an entry-level contract on their hands who pairs almost perfectly with the recently re-signed Brendan Smith. Both players seem, in a word, untradeable.
But you have to give to get however in the modern NHL, where lopsided trades seem to revolve around a small handful of idiot GMs. Savvy management groups like the ones at the helm in both Toronto and New York are going to make sure they’re getting fair value out of any trade, and neither of those brain trusts are in a position right now where their hand is forced. Still, one needs to consider how serious the need is for say, a top-six two-way center or a true #2 defenseman. If either team really wants that prize piece to take them to (perceived) legitimate contender status they’re going to need to release from their clutches a prized asset. Kadri could really round out the Rangers’ forward corps but would come at the price of a major component of their recently remodeled defensive group.
Skjei would help give the Leafs the defensive oomph that they need for years to come but would hamper them down the middle with the loss of Kadri. Are the Rangers new defensive prospects in Pionk, DeAngelo, Bereglazov (and uh, that Shattenkirk signing) enough to compensate for the loss of Brady Skjei? Would the Leafs considerable firepower on the wing (not to mention Auston Matthews) make up for what they’d miss at center? These are the kinds of things competing GMs must weigh in order to determine whether it’s worth giving up one key asset for another in today’s league, because unless you’re fleecing some bonehead general manager, the trade market is a give and take.
Neither Leafs fans nor Rangers fans would be happy to see this one go down in all likelihood as it would create one hole while filling another, but it’s the kind of gamble either or both of Lou Lamoriello and Jeff Gorton might want to make if they think it could push them to grade-A contender status.
(Stats via naturalstattrick.com)