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Photo Credit: © Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

If the Leafs trade Kadri, what happens next?

There’s a funny thing that happens every time a Leafs player is mentioned in trade rumours: People scramble to say “Well how do we replace him?” with an implication that the front office seemingly overlooked this important question. This is especially applicable in the cases of two Toronto players who’ve had their names in the news recently, Nazem Kadri and Nikita Zaitsev.

With Zaitsev the answer is quite obvious given his contributions to the team might be a net negative and his contract is dreadful: Literally anyone. (Well not literally, but you get what I mean. The most average of average players would be a fine replacement). In Kadri’s case the answer is a little more complicated, but there has to be one.

I’ll preface this whole thing by saying I’d be gutted to see Kadri leave Toronto because he’s been a great Leaf through the good and bad, and while he gets a bit fired up from time-to-time, he plays with a nastiness that is sometimes fun to see other teams to try reckon with. But what’s frustrating about this Kadri trade talk is that most pundits brush aside the idea of trading him because it would suddenly make the Leafs thin at center; In other words, Freddie Gauthier starts getting meaningful third-line minutes, which is nightmare fuel.

This is not going to happen.

If a team steps to the plate and offers the Leafs a bit of a ransom for Kadri, to the point where the front office has to pull the trigger on a trade, they’ll likely take the added value and run. There are certainly going to be options available afterward to fill the void and not let the team run the Goat out there. Hell, I’m not even sure Gauthier will be on this team full time next season anyway – the Leafs could probably stand to add a center even if they don’t move Kadri.

Having Kadri in the lineup is great, and it gives the Leafs nearly-unrivaled depth in their top nine forwards. But should the Jets fax over an offer with, say, Jacob Trouba with a worked-out contract or another asset, that’s going to be tough for the Leafs to turn away from. Sure it might leave a temporary hole at 3C and make people uneasy for a bit, but you have to ask yourself something along the lines of Is this team better with 25-year-old Trouba and perhaps a short term cheap fill-in like Derick Brassard than just Kadri? The answer is probably yes. They could also make another trade, or get back some bottom six depth in the pending Marleau/Zaitsev deals.

The point is, yes the Leafs will have to find some way to try and fill Kadri’s role the best they can if they move on from him, but that’s not exactly a daunting task because I don’t think they have to find another Kadri-caliber player. Gains the Leafs make on their back end and elsewhere in the roster like the fourth line with other moves and promotions could facilitate a scenario where they could bring in a player like Brassard (I keep using him because he’s got skill and had a down year heading to FA, but there are plenty of options you can find by digging through PuckPedia pages) and make that work.

Whether the Leafs dole out minutes differently at the top of their lineup with Tavares and Matthews taking on increases, or find a more competent bottom-of-the-lineup center to upgrade on Gauthier, they have a path to making a Kadri trade for a big upgrade in a place of weakness and filling over lesser cracks later.

I don’t know if Kadri will be dealt, but his name is certainly out there and the word is teams out west in particular, like the Oilers, Jets, and Canucks are potential suitors, to go along with the Canes in the east. He’s a versatile player and not someone you want to lose from your roster, but if the Leafs find an offer that makes a lot of sense, you can be sure that panic over finding a replacement for the role won’t be too huge a factor. As it stands, that role itself has a level of fluidity to it considering what makes up the rest of the team.

Read also: Should the Leafs trade Nazem Kadri?

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  • Drapes55

    People seem to be forgetting that William Nylander filled in quite well for Kadri in the playoffs considering he was playing with 2 wingers that had little to know offensive ability in Brown and Marleau. If Kadri gets traded I think you see Nylander slot in at 3C with maybe a Kapanen, Bracco or Mikheyev (assuming he makes the team). I mean look what he did playing on a line with Petersson and Hornquist at the world’s did for him. Give Nylander a chance and have a plan B in place in case but I suspect Nylander is the successor for Kadri if he’s traded

    • Bob Canuck

      I agree that Nylander filled in well for Kadri at center during the Bruins series. This is especially true given that he was saddled with Marleau and Brown. However, I think the Leafs are better with Matthews and Nylander playing together than having Nylander playing third-line center.

      At 5v5 for the 3 seasons starting in 2016-2017 (Matthews first season), the right-wingers that have played the most with Matthews are Nylander (1,609 TOI), Kapanen (607 TOI), and Brown (567 TOI). If you compare Matthews with/without data (CF%, GF%, xGF%, SCF%, and HDCF%), Matthews was more productive in every one of these with/without categories when playing with Nylander than he was with either Kapanen or Brown. In other words, the largest positive difference between the noted with/without stats occurred when Mathews had Nylander on right wing than when he was flanked by Kapanen or Brown. (Data per Natural Stat Trick).

      Given that Matthews will have the highest AAV on the Leafs this season, I think Matthews talents are optimized if Matthews plays with Nylander rather than with Kapanen or Brown. I also think it makes the best use of Nylander and his play making abilities; he needs to play with offensively-gifted linemates. I think it would be easier for the Leafs to find a suitable non-Nylander replacement for Kadri than it would be to find a proven, skilled third-line winger.

      • Bob Canuck

        I think I should clarify the last sentence. Given that Nylander needs to play with offensively-skilled players, the Leafs would need to acquire a winger that is, at a minimum, a bona fide second-line forward who would play on the third-line with Nylander. Preferably, this winger would be a goal scorer.

  • Stan Smith

    I’ve been saying all along that if the Leafs deal Zaitsev and/or Kadri, it can’t be to save cap room. They have to acquire talent to replace them, and the cost would probably be close to what they were paying both of them.

    As for the Kadri for Trouba rumours, if the Leafs can’t afford $6M to re-sign Gardiner, they sure won’t be able to afford the $7+M it will cost to extend Trouba.

    • magesticRAGE

      I don’t think they should trade Kadri. His value is down, like you said it would subtract from a position of strength, and it would subtract a player with the grit/skill package.

      If he does go, he can be replaced. With a plethora of skilled wingers, the permanent move to center could free up Nylander’s offense, especially if Marleau and Brown’s presence won’t slow him down.
      Johnsson-Matthews-Bracco
      Hyman-Tavares-Marner
      Mikheyev-Nylander-Kapanen
      Engvall-Gauthier-Moore
      Even getting Jeff Carter (Marleau’s deal) isn’t the end of the world, especially if some salary is retained.

      I would like to see Babcock be forced to play Holl for an extended run of games, he is a Gardiner-lite, but without the big game collapses. We know what Dermott can bring, and Rosen is a pretty reliable puck mover. The Blueline should be better by subtraction alone, as long as Babcock will allow them.