I’m not sure if Nazem Kadri wants a mulligan on all of the 2018-19 season, but I’m sure he’d appreciate the do-over on his short lived playoff appearance.
Kadri didn’t have a great season, and that was to be somewhat expected simply based on his reduced role. The arrival of John Tavares meant that Kadri was going to be bumped to a third line role, and get the accompanying linemates that go along with that. Throw in the fact that William Nylander wasn’t available until December, Patrick Marleau’s performance fell off a cliff, and any expectation of maintaining a 30 goal a season pace of the past two seasons wasn’t likely.
That’s not to say that Kadri had a bad season (just a miserable playoffs), and the fact that he was a 44 point forward on the third line probably points to a lot of good hockey still being left in Nazem. The biggest question might be where Kadri will be playing that hockey.
Okay, so really there is only one thing we’re going to remember from this year and that is for the second straight season Kadri was suspended for the first round of the playoffs for seeking revenge on the Bruins who have wronged him. That’s kinda a big thing, so it’s probably fine that we’re dissecting that.
The issue really isn’t that Kadri plays an aggressive, often dirty style of hockey that gets under the skin of his opponents, and that in the heat of the game it will from time to time cross the line and result in penalties, ejections, and suspensions. That is part of who Kadri is and if the Leafs didn’t have that in their lineup we’d miss that element, even if it’s not necessarily what you build a team around. The issue is that this was calculated selfish revenge, and through the action, it not only took him out of the lineup, reducing the Leafs effectiveness, it also resulted in moving William Nylander to center which basically shut him down for the series as well. All of this because Kadri had to go straight after DeBrusk instead of waiting for the opportunity to punch Jake in the back of the head during a scrum later in the game.
For his part, Kadri has owned this mistake, but when the behaviour is consistently being repeated, owning the mistake isn’t really going to satisfy a lot of people and the questions are going to linger about how much the Leafs can trust Kadri when they need him the most.
Outside of his defining incident, Kadri also missed 9 games this season due to a concussion, and has become the face of UberEats.
Stats and charts:
So goal production is definitely down. In fact it’s the lowest numbers for Kadri since his 21 game season in 2011-12. Even the lockout shortened season Kadri put up 18, so other than the darkest timeline seasons of 2014-15 and 2015-16, he’s been a pretty reliable goal scorer, largely aided by his power play role which was certainly reduced this season.
So, the production definitely dropped, but the quality of Kadri’s game certainly remained intact. As much as I’d love to play the “let’s blame the linemates” game, with the exception of the decline of Patrick Marleau, the story from last year to this one is pretty much the same and maybe speaks to a bit of the offensive decline, but considering that Komarov was an offensive blackhole last year, we can all it a wash.
Instead let’s consider that Kadri saw his shooting percentage drop to its lowest number in four years at 8.7%. His shots were also down and his power play role shifted and hampered that production. The fact that at 5v5 he was only 3 points off his total from last year in 7 fewer games probably means the slack was picked up in playmaking, and his points per 60 increased from 1.73 to 1.84 at 5v5, but decreased from 2.46 to 2.23 looking at all strengths. If correcting his power play usage is the biggest problem with Kadri (besides the discipline issue), what a lovely player to work with.
Kadri’s position is one of the most sure-things on this team as of right now. He will always be behind Matthews in the depth chart and will have a good pairing of wingers beside him.
Babcock will hopefully keep that line with Marner and Marleau, so we get that to look forward to come October. But there is one small thing looming over this offseason like an old Oshawa Generals jersey that hasn’t left the back of a chair at Shoeless Joe’s.
John Tavares might be signing with the Leafs, which is crazy to say. This would bring Kadri down to the 3C slot for sure, but would a lot change for Kadri moving down from the 2C to the 3C behind Tavares/Matthews? I believe that he could still have the same wingers and would still play in the same role that he did just this past season. His ice-time would suffer, but not drastically. If the Leafs were able to have this 1-2-3 punch down the middle, there is no telling what they could bring with a Pittsburgh Penguins-esque offense.
That 1-2-3 punch was really nice, shame we couldn’t use it when it mattered most.
I hate the idea of handing out grades, but the editor man says I have to, so I’m going to give Kadri a C+, that would have been a B if I wasn’t considering the playoffs. Kadri was an ideal third line center for most of the season. He stepped up during Matthews injury, he got by with less than ideal linemates before William Nylander signed, and he was one of only a few Leafs that is capable of pulling off a pest role. The fact that 19% of his goals this season came on one night meant a lot of scoring drought talk, but the Leafs weren’t suffering from a lack of goals this season and Kadri did what was needed with him right up until Game 2 against Boston. Unfortunately that one moment was a biggie and while it’s not a reason to cut ties with Kadri, it’s a valid reason to be upset with him.
We’re still very much in the midst of the “Trade Kadri” narrative stemming from the playoffs, but while we’re hearing that talk for the wrong reasons it’s still valid to consider dealing Kadri.
Nazem is capable of being a second line center on most teams in the league, and plays a style of hockey most teams could use. His salary cap hit of $4.5M (locked in for three more years) makes him easy to move and the Leafs should receive a substantial return for him if they were to move him. In a perfect world the Leafs would keep him. They certainly need him at center and it has become clear that William Nylander is unlikely to be an option at center, nor do you want Nylander on your third line. The Leafs should keep Kadri, but the salary cap remains the sticking point. We’re likely to hear a lot of rumours about Nazem leading up until the draft, and considering he’ll be 29 at the start of next season, he might have aged himself off the young Leafs team.
If Kadri does return the Leafs will be better for it, since replacing him doesn’t seem like an easy task. I’d fully expect a bump in goal production, since his shooting percentage says he should rebound at least a little.
As for the discipline piece, I’m not saying we want him to stop attacking Boston Bruins, I’m just saying he needs to pick his spots better and be slightly less obvious about it.