Kadri’s Uncertain Future

At the beginning of this season, I took a look at the Leafs roster and had a few questions about this team heading into the regular season.

One question I had was, “Is this Nazem Kadri’s year to prove to management that he is worth the long- term investment?”

I went on to say that this was Kadri’s year to prove that he is the player that would stick around for the rebuild and be a key contributor for the Maple Leafs. Article here.

Fast forward to the present, the end of the regular season.

About seven months later, my opinion on Kadri has changed to the point where I’m on the fence about him being on the team next year.

It has been a whirlwind season for Kadri, where he’s been in the spotlight in a positive and negative way. With Kadri slated to go to restricted free-agency again, this is definitely a curious case. This could spell the end of his time in Toronto or another shot at redemption and trust.

For most of the season, Kadri has shown that he is capable of playing a strong two-way game. We have seen him become more noticeable in the defensive zone, yet he’s still managing to be a threat in the offensive zone, even though the offensive output isn’t as strong as people think it should be.

This was Mike Babcock’s main area of focus on Kadri. He wanted him to be a complete player, which has been a huge success and one thing to check off in Babcock’s to-do list. Now, he hasn’t been perfect, but there is an improvement. There are still some instances where he gets caught making a bad decision and it leads to a scoring chance.

Like this play here:

Kadri makes a lazy stick-check in the neutral zone on Marcus Foligno. This leads to Foligno making a great pass to Johan Larsson and Kadri almost colliding with his teammate, which leads to the goal.

While very few of these happened this year, these are some mistakes that still linger in Kadri’s game.

To add to the notion of defensive play, there was the call-out of rookie forward Jack Eichel on his defensive game. Read about it here on SportsNet

While Eichel is still growing as a player, there is no reason for Kadri to evaluate and critique his game. That is for head coach Dan Bylsma and the Buffalo Sabres to decide. This does not sound like someone who is trying to become a better defensive player. Kadri should focus on his own play and leave it at that.

Another area of Kadri’s game that Babcock loves is his compete level. We’ve heard it throughout the year. He does play with an edge every game and in Babcock’s eyes, that’s a good thing. Yet, this can also be detrimental to Kadri as a player and to his teammates around him. I will further talk about this later on.

Even though there is a strong positive change in his game, there are still some areas of concern. Majority of fans will look at his point- production as an area of concern. Which is true.

In the first 26 games of the season, Kadri alone had only nine points in that span. Since his 50- point season in 2013-14, Kadri’s point production has drastically decreased. He only tallied 39 points in 2014-15 and 45 this year in 76 games played. After his breakthrough season, fans had thought that they had witnessed the emergence of the highly skilled centre that was drafted seventh overall in 2009.

We know that Kadri is a key player in terms of generating shots. He is among the team leaders in even strength scoring chances for with 603. Kadri is also among the team lead in on-ice shots for at five-on-five with 577. While these numbers are impressive, his conversion is dismal with a 6.5 shooting percent (17 goals on 260 shots on goal).

In three years Kadri has amassed 134 points and a career 0.59 points per game. Which is good. But compare that to other elite scorers in the league, like Anze Kopitar and Alex Ovechkin to name a few, Kadri is an average player.

It seems like Kadri is only capable of only producing this much. Some fans may still think that because we drafted Kadri in the top 10, he’s going to be a superstar. That hasn’t been the case. Kadri will never be in the same category as Ovechkin, or be a key offensive contributor on the first line. He’ll most likely see most of his time and production on the second line.

I can live with the fact that Kadri may not put up the points like he did in the Ontario Hockey League. But, he’s becoming more of a defensively responsible player under Babcock.

What really concerns me about Kadri over the last month or so, is his undisciplined and childish behaviour.

Kadri has been in the middle of diving/ embellishment calls, throat slash gestures and recently, a four-game suspension after a crosscheck to the head of Detroit Red Wings forward Luke Glendening. This is ultimately the reason for Kadri’s season coming to an early end.

While this doesn’t really hurt the Leafs, since they aren’t in a playoff position, it’s still an unnecessary action, no matter what situation they’re in.

“I’d like to see him not be in the box. Or not be suspended,” said Mike Babcock in an interview with TSN 1050 Overdrive.

Full page here

While Babcock is satisfied with the way he’s played away from instances like these, he made it clear that he doesn’t want that type of player with that kind of impact in the box.

Kadri is 25-years-old. Yet, with these incidents, he’s still acting like a teenager. His attitude and actions, like the cross-check need to stop. I understand emotions run high, but with incidents like that, Kadri needs to learn to walk away and control his emotions and actions. It’s always good to play with an edge and Kadri has done just that, but a situation like this isn’t necessary.

For all we know, there could’ve been something more to it, offensive comments, etc.?

In a recent segment of “The Quiz” on TSN, the panel was given two options of advice to give to Kadri; keep playing with an edge, or exercise more self-control.

This may be old news, but it still applies to this situation in regards to his actions. There was the internal suspension last year after showing up late for a team meeting, a suspension after a hit to the head of Matt Fraser (four game suspension) and the elbow to the head of then Minnesota Wild goaltender, Nikolas Backstrom in 2013. I’ll even throw the Eichel comments in here, even though that is not as serious as the list above.

While I like the way Kadri plays, he definitely needs to have more self-control with what he does on the ice. If he continues to make these kinds of poor decisions, management may not want to do anything with him anymore and potentially cut ties with him.

They’ve already done that with Phil Kessel. I see that they would have no problem in doing the same thing with Kadri should he continue to be a problem. The last thing this team needs during a rebuild is another player with too much of an edge that he ends up on the league’s radar.

Which brings my next point. Where will Kadri fit in next year, if things go the Leafs way (for once).

Hypothetical scenario: The Leafs win the Draft Lottery and sign elite sniper Steven Stamkos. What do you do with Kadri?

If the Leafs manage to draft talented center Auston Matthews and sign Stamkos, there are a few names that could be on the outside looking in at the centre position, notably Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri.

With the point production and attitude aside, I’d say the Leafs should move Kadri. Stamkos and Matthews will no doubt be the number one and number two centre. Kadri and Bozak will battle for the third spot. I can’t see Kadri in the third centre role, knowing that he is capable of playing in a top six role who can provide some assistance on the power-play and penalty-kill. It would be wise to move Kadri for additional help on defense to a team looking for some secondary scoring as he will thrive in that role.

It was mentioned that the Leafs were going to originally put top prospect William Nylander on the wing, but due to injuries, he found himself at the middle.

I’d be happy with Stamkos, Matthews and Bozak as the centres. Bozak would assume a role more suited for him instead of trying to be a first line centre.

Even if the Leafs do re-sign Kadri, there’s also the distinct possibility that he could be traded at the deadline. There were reports that Babcock and general manager Lou Lamoriello were trying to “up” his trade value this year. If Kadri continues to show the positives in his game, then that might be the case come trade deadline next year.

Which is why this is the year that Kadri has to take everything into account and take things seriously. This also puts the Toronto Maple Leafs in an interesting situation. Depending on how well the off-season goes, do they re-sign him to a reasonable price? Or do they deal him away for another asset, most likely on defense?

In an interview with TSN 1050’s Overdrive, Mike Babcock said that this is Kadri’s “Biggest summer of his career. If he wants to be as good as he’s capable of being, he’s got to dig in off- ice. If he does that, we’re going to have a real good player on our hands.”

Kadri has the utmost support from his head coach. It’s now time for him to finally mature and be a leader on this team. He needs to continue to focus on what made him successful this year and not be in the middle of on-ice incidents. He needs to act his age and not let his anger or emotions get the best of him, because that’s what we’ve been seeing for the past month or so.

But during that time, we saw a player who could get under the opponents skin and play with an edge while still managing to provide points on a struggling offensive team. Like Babcock said, Kadri works best when he is out of the penalty box and not getting suspended or in the middle of scrum. It’s clear that Babcock would want to keep him, but how long can he put up with his shenanigans?

Kadri needs to put in ample hours on and off the ice in terms of training this year, make adjustments in his shooting and needs to find a way to bottle up his emotions so that it doesn’t break free every game. Which is hard to do, because emotions always run high in competitive sports.

The ball is in Kadri’s court. He’s playing for another contract and possibly auditioning for 29 other teams. He’s capable of playing a smart game, but his actions will be highly criticized amongst others.

*Numbers from NHL.com and War On Ice

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