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.
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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.
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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.
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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.