I miss Nazem Kadri. I wouldn’t have traded Nazem Kadri. And I will always unfairly judge Alex Kerfoot because he was part of the Nazem Kadri trade. For that reason, Alexander Kerfoot’s number is 43. With Barrie gone, and Kadri thriving in Colorado, cranky old farts like myself will continue to misdirect our disappointment at Kerfoot, a player who did pretty decent in his first season as a Leaf, but was decidedly not in the same class as Nazem.
Now, when you consider that Barrie as the top four D the Leafs were in desperate need of was meant to be the true return of the Kadri trade, and Kerfoot was more or less the means of backfilling Kadri’s position, the criticism of Kerfoot drops. When you consider that heading into last season that Kerfoot had played the majority of his time on the wing, and was abruptly moved into a permanent 3C role (minus during injury situations) and had to develop in that role under two different coaches, it’s easy to understand why some areas of Kerfoot’s game were lacking.
The coaching thing is something that we might overlook too quickly, but when you consider Kerfoot went into the offseason thinking he’d be a second line winger under Bednar in Colorado, to thinking he’d be a shutdown 3C under Mike Babcock, to being used as a middle six utility player under Keefe when he’d put Kerfoot wherever injuries dictated he play, it was a rough go of it for a while. During the brief return to play, Kerfoot was also being asked to initiate Nick Robertson to the NHL, so I’m just going to say a lot of heavylifting and change was a part of Kerfoot’s 2019-20 season, and any criticism of him shouldn’t be carried forward. He deserves a clean slate.
The other part of that is that those of us who have criticism of Kerfoot are largely in the wrong on this. He was pretty decent in 2019-20, and again, it’s just our expectations were probably linked to our love of Kadri’s offence and shit disturbing ways.
Looking at a side by side comparison of their seasons, the Leafs were better with Kerfoot on the ice than the Avs were with Kadri. Of course, Kadri’s goals endear him, and his hit total does a good job of that as well, and there’s also the matter of Kerfoot spending half his year as a winger on a line with Tavares and Nylander that helped him, but this is decidedly a sign that Kerfoot can excel as a top six winger or as a third line center, and that’s the versatility that will help the Leafs this season.
With Kerfoot potentially battling with Joe Thornton for the third line center job, and battling with Ilya Mikheyev for the 2LW job, the happy medium for Kerfoot is that he moves where he is needed throughout the top nine on any given night. In a year that will have injuries and illness, Kerfoot’s ability to move where needed in the roster is a selling point, and it’s not a deterrent that we don’t fully know what he is yet.
There are also advantages to this season for Kerfoot, in having a player like Joe Thornton to learn from if the goal remains to keep Kerfoot at center. There’s also the advantage for Kerfoot of having his Harvard linemate, Jimmy Vesey, joining the organization and potentially lining up with him again. Throw in the initial chemistry that Kerfoot had with Mikheyev, pre-injury, and with Nick Robertson in the Return to Play, and expecting good things from Kerfoot doesn’t seem unreasonable.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from comparing Kerfoot to Kadri is that Kerfoot is the boring option. He’s the better defensive option, he’s the better playmaking option, and the lower risk player. Kadri’s agitating play, and highlight reel driven offense speak to the part of me that wants to be entertained when I watch hockey, but arguably the Leafs have a better chance to win with Kerfoot in the lineup instead of Nazem. So favourite player or not, it’s probably time to stop comparing Kerfoot to Kadri and let Alex just do what he does best, and that’s go largely unnoticed and give the Leafs a good chance to win.