Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Unsung Hero: Nazem Kadri’s overlooked season so far

We all know how big of an impact the players like Tavares, Matthews, Marner, and Rielly have made so far through the first half of this season. But the player that was labeled as the key to their offensive depth has been rarely heard of.

Nazem Kadri has sometimes been heralded as the best contract in the league, but because of the massive jump in performances from some Leafs that are more in the spotlight, he has been lost in the crowd.

Not to say that he has been underperforming, but he has certainly been overshadowed by his teammates and rightly so for the crazy numbers they are putting up.

With peers set for career-highs in total points or goals, Kadri has consistently been slugging it in the Leafs bottom-six. A designation that used to mean lugging around wingers that would treat scoring chances hesitantly, now Kadri has been blessed with some competent wingers through injuries or one restricted free agent finally signing his contract.

At even-strength, Kadri’s most common linemates have been Patrick Marleau and Kasperi Kapanen, playing just over 172 minutes together. Definitely a nice change from when he had to spend over 80 minutes of 5v5 hockey playing with Connor Brown and Par Lindholm.

Not that those two players are any slacks, but it was evident on the ice that Kadri was struggling a bit with Brown and Lindholm. Barely breaking even with a 0.1 expected goals percentage (xGF%); still positive but relative to the Leafs as a whole it was considered a -0.94 rel xGF%. Of forward lines that have played at least 50 minutes of even-strength, that line had the third-worst rel xGF%.

The significant piece of expected goals for percentage in context with Kadri is that all of his raw numbers are over 50%. A solid baseline to discover that while he is on the ice with his most common linemates this season, the Leafs have been getting the better scoring chances than the opposing team.

The Leafs as a whole hold that over-50 xGF% – only six skaters are at sub-50 for the season – but Kadri’s 51.06 xGF% at 5v5 has certainly been dragged down by certain teammates this season.

Not only has Kadri gotten a good amount of high-danger chances to rocket up that xGF%, but when it comes to the shot attempt rates among teammates, he is right there with the best.

data via Corsica/viz by Sean Tierney

Slightly hugging the CA60 average line, Kadri has the sixth-highest rate of on-ice shot attempts per hour (CF/60) on the whole team. Certainly impressive considering that the Leafs as a whole average the fifth-highest rate in the league.

Of all the offensive players the Leafs have, Kadri is clearly the player with the best defensive numbers among them. Bringing both sides to the game, he can create on-ice chances while also being defensively responsible.

So far this season, it sounds like most times Kadri is on the outside looking in. Simply just a passenger within this group of Leafs forwards, but he has been so much more than that. Deservingly, he should be included more as a key Leafs forward.

data via @loserpoints/viz by Sean Tierney

While his on-ice production could have different factors, Kadri’s personal play has been up there with the best in the entire league.

By looking at his primary shot contributions (individual corsi for and primary shot assists), his playmaking ability and his ability to get shots off are highlighted. Other than Matthews and Tavares, Kadri is right in that next grouping of Leafs forwards.

It certainly does not seem so when mentioning the top performers for the Leafs this season. Of course, having 25 points when other forwards are on-pace to break team records seems not that impressive, but considering what else Kadri brings and him being right up there with the “big dogs” is significant.

The first half of the 2018-19 season has been one of the best in franchise history for the Leafs. Including the fact that there are so many new and much more exciting thoughts than Nazem Kadri being solid, it’s understandable that he seems to be forgotten.

One of the best players of his generation signed as a free agent with his hometown club, a native of the city is outperforming even his high expectations, the Leafs might have their first defenceman to win the Norris trophy – these times are crazy. With Kadri just being his consistent self, no wonder why he appears to be overlooked.

He won’t put up Marner, Tavares, or Matthews numbers, but Kadri has been a key piece and the reason why this team is heralded for its offensive depth. His season needed to be praised and have a spotlight shone on it, to really appreciate how often he contributes to both sides of the game.

He will be here for at least a few more years and will always be the provider he has been this season. A player like Kadri is needed to be successful and hopefully, that can be proven this spring.


all data from corsica.hockey or hockey-reference

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