There are plenty of rumours surrounding the Maple Leafs as they head into an incredibly busy offseason. Offloading massive contracts and re-signing young depth forwards aside, the Leafs might be looking to trade a forward that has been here from the beginning.
Through 561 regular season games, Nazem Kadri is still in Toronto.
Even though he has been hypothetically traded by about every single media member and any fan with a Twitter account, Kadri is a member of the Leafs.
A player that was drafted back in 2009 by then-GM Brian Burke, haunting every single fan with memories of a time that should be forgotten. Kadri has been through it all in modern Leafs history — Game 7 4-1 collapses, trying to go for it again, complete tank years with a hollow team, rise of young superstars, reuniting with an old London Knights teammate, inability to get out of the first round.
Already going through a rollercoaster of a career, Kadri has established himself as very good NHL centreman, a thought that seemed impossible early on.
As hard as those type of players are to come by, the Leafs are in desperate need for another defenceman. Especially with the news that right-hander Nikita Zaitsev is on the block and will most likely be moved, this team just needs good, capable, players on their blue line.
Toronto is in no place to wait for the draft and develop process for that help on the blue line, but rather they will have to go the trade route, even if the player coming to the Leafs has only a couple years left on their current contract.
It’s unfortunate, but one of their prime assets is Kadri.
Under contract for three more seasons at a cap hit of $4.5-million, the centreman is a bargain for what he can bring to a team. He’s only averaged 16:31 TOI for the past three seasons, but he has still been able to score 80 goals and 160 points during that time.
There’s no doubt that any team would love to have him on their roster — at a bargain price and still at a productive age. But he will be reaching free agency in 2022 and will definitely price himself out of a return to Toronto after his current contract expires.
So the big question is, would you rather have a hypothetical top-four defenceman for the next couple of years, or Kadri playing on the third line for the next three?
The way the previous seasons have played out, fans would most likely be screaming for that top-four defenceman that can cement this group as one of the best in the league. But what Kadri provides in his depth role is hard to come by and somewhat essential for success.
To get a greater sense of what Kadri does without the influence of his teammates, we turn to math.
It’s no secret that Kadri has been given the short end of the stick when it comes to who he’s on the ice with. His most common linemate this past season was a 39-year-old Patrick Marleau (537:31 TOI), following him was Connor Brown (375:52) and the defenceman with the most time with Kadri was Nikita Zaitsev (331:58).
That is just a murderer’s row of the 2018-19 scapegoats.
Not only were those players able to bring Kadri’s overall performance down to their level, but without Kadri on the ice with them, their shot attempt percentages all decreased by an average of 5.5 per cent.
Without those players chained to Kadri like an on-ice rendition of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, the 28-year-old might have had third consecutive 30-goal season.
There is also a reasonable expectation that all three of those players will not be in Toronto when training camp starts in September. Therefore you have to imagine that Kadri’s even-strength production will increase with just overall better teammates to play with.
But where are those teammates coming from? Are there options currently with the Marlies or possible free agent signings?
If the hypothetical 2019-20 linemates for Kadri are just giant mystery boxes, then it might make more sense to move on from the player and strengthen a real weakness on the blue line.
With that prior logic though, Kadri’s likely replacement will be a giant unknown as well. There are no surefire options coming through the prospect pool to be thrust into the third-line centre role on a team that wants to contend.
The concept of trading from a strength to essentially balance out the roster is nice in theory, but the team might end up in a vicious cycle trying to find replacements for players that they traded away to get players in other positions.
As terrible a summary as it is, the answer might just be that it depends on the return for Kadri. His contract fits this team perfectly, but if there are defencemen like Colin Miller or Brett Pesce available, with even better contracts, then the trade might make sense.
A top-four defenceman will be technically on the ice more than Kadri has averaged the past three seasons, which might just mean that a greater impact is to be had on this team. But the main concern is where the offensive depth would be coming from.
Only Nic Petan and Frederik Gauthier remain as possible depth centreman and that would be some sorry looking 25-ish minutes a game if Babcock is relying on those two to balance out the production. Barring some crazy trade or signing, that would be the options if Kadri were to be moved.
With all this back and forth of the positives and negatives of trading Kadri, the holes in the Leafs’ lineup becomes increasingly clear. Dubas might have a busy offseason ahead of him if he wants to build out this team’s potential.
It would be a tough emotional decision to be alright with moving on from a player that has been in Toronto for so long. But if one of the league’s worst defences become even just mediocre, the Leafs’ length of success might grow past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in decades.