So, it seems we are approximately one month away from the regular season. Finishing up an off-season that will be looked back upon for years. The same off-season in which we finally saw an organization adapt a future outlook to prosperity within the NHL and not the old motto of “buy now, win now.” We have been privy to a summer that has thus far drafted with the thought of high-ceiling rather than safe-pick. A summer that traded away it’s most valuable asset for a formidable return. Though, I would have rather not ate some of that contract, those are the demons that we must live with, passed down from an inferior regime of hockey managers. Many will argue “great hockey men” were let go without thought or compassion. What I know for sure is that change has happened, and more change will follow. A change that was needed in today’s NHL.
The most polarizing change leading up to the new season will be the maturation of Nazem Kadri. Quite possibly Kadri’s last chance to really cement a foot within this organization. Turning 25 the day before opening night vs. The Canadiens, he still has a chance to become what Brian Burke saw in him when he was drafted. Let’s be honest, this team won’t be ready to be fully competitive for at least four-years (possibly longer). In four-years that puts Kadri at 29 years old. Many have estimated a player’s decline starts at around 28 with a heavier decline around 31-32 years old on average, thus giving him three good years of hockey when this team is finally ready to succeed. So many are ready to give up on him like many players we gave up on before, but I believe the organization has him in their design. A true sign of him being a part of the so called “Shanaplan” was his public shaming in the media by current President, Brendan Shanahan. Many remember his suspension due to off ice issues, which reminded me of good ol’ suspensions from grade school back in my day. Nobody’s perfect, neither was I. This was a clear message from Shanahan. “I like you, shape up.”
I think the kid got the message. Hockey Twitter has become a vile place, and so many have viewed his training reported by CTV as narcissistic and not at face value. Shit, some of the people at this very blog want him gone as well. He is doing what we want, he is growing up. I for one have always been a promoter of second chances. Many claim that last season was his second chance, yet people don’t realize that his time-on-ice (TOI) would represent a lack of trust. He has been living in the shadow of an inferior centre-man and has basically been living under a glass ceiling. Kadri needs to be given the chance to break it. Last season, before Randy Carlyle was fired, we caught a glimpse of this ceiling opening up.
(All numbers are at 5v5)
Kadri’s So Called “Breakthrough” Year 2012-2013
I feel that this year was quite unfair to his numbers. Even though you can see that he was heavily out-possessed on the ice, the quality of shooter(s) he was facing was clearly inferior. Even though his CF% was sub-acceptable, the teams CF% with him off the ice was even more disheartening. One could assume that even though his personal CF% was sub 50, his ability to drive puck possession was better than that of his team. This is the year he played behind Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski. At this point in his career he was arguably the talent of a 2nd line centre playing in a 3rd line centre role. He tallied 38 pts in 55 games, all this while having minimal PP time. Kadri also posted an on ice point rate well above three, putting him into the highest P/60 class of that year. Personally believing in on-ice competition, in the above chart, you can kind of see that it was low. Though being heavily out-shot and out-possessed (coaching system related) you can see that “quality” of shots taken were not in the favour of the opposing team. Kadri’s “High Danger Scoring Chances: was three percent above average and in “Standard Scoring Chances” he was approximately one percent higher than average.
First Year as Second Line Centre 2013-2014
First off, his CF% was worse than that of the previous year, but I don’t believe two of his line mates knew where the defensive end of the ice was. Having Joffrey Lupul and Mason Raymond on his wings for most of the season affected his personal possession numbers, not to mention that with playing 2nd line minutes, comes tougher competition. Though on ice competition has not been a hot topic for a while, I still believe that it should be something that is looked into. Breaking down his numbers per-game, his swings in on-ice CF% swung heavily depending on team played and if the game was home or away. Though most of his numbers dropped, pretty heavily, this should be chalked up to linemates and competition (CF% when he was not on the ice was again lower than when he was on the ice).
Second Year as Second line Centre 2014-2015
Interesting how one line-mate can drastically change how someone performs, right?. Most of the season he had either Mike Santorelli or Daniel Winnik on one of his wings, with the remainder going to defensive liability, Joffrey Lupul. Even though Lupul was mostly on his one wing, having a similar minded two-way player on the other helps (See all of the above chart). His total numbers were much more closer to 50 percent than previous years. His individual numbers were better than that of the previous year, all while playing against the same toughness in competition, yet having one better linemate.
Under Randy Carlyle, Kadri was on a 2.21 Points/60 rate at 5v5. On pace for probably 20+ 5v5 goals and 40+ 5v5 points. Of course hindered from the PP by a chemistry driven first-line centre (Blowzak). Fine, none of these numbers include the PP, yet I felt the need to throw that stab in there. All scoring rates and all scoreboard stats were cut nearly in half after the PH take over, yet other underlying numbers improved.
A clear difference in two coaching styles was seen on the ice after the swap, and it was a major change from the previous style of firewagon hockey. A mid-season style change couldn’t have been easy and looks that way on a scoreboard. Lets not forget that Kadri lost linemates in Santorelli and Winnik and only tallied 3 more 5v5 points after the trade deadline. Many said “They gave up,” and that would be correct for some of their players, but I don’t think that is the truth with him. Kadri’s CF% after the trade deadline only dropped slightly, it was 49.7 over the 12 games after the deadline and was 50.2 for the previous 23 PH games. With more TOI there was also a major drop in GA while he was on the ice. With a new system in place, even though a more defensive, this team, Kadri included, couldn’t find a way to score and hence had less on ice GF. Not having the time to go back and watch every game last season, the difference in HSCF% could be explained by the drastic decline in rush chances for and against. The Leafs being a deadly rush team, a new system design around puck possession and controlled zone entries, would have limited rush chances for. This could have been part of why Kadri had less chances from the high and low slot. PH’s system and/or lack of required players may have also allowed for more “High Danger Scoring Chances Against.”
Even if you look at Kadri’s numbers, before the coaching/system change, you can see he was well on his way to having a great year. He was improving over the previous year and was visually a better player. I am excited to see what Babcock can do with Kadri this upcoming season and will revisit this topic around the 40 game mark. I estimate good things.
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Here is what I am getting at: giving up on Kadri now, could be quite the mistake. The Leafs gave up on guys before and they still continue to haunt us. Alex Steen is one example that comes to mind. Doing a helluva job on the St. Louis Blues, by the way. At this moment Kadri is an all-around centre and could potentially be a first line centre if given the chance to be.
Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri could very well turn into our own Bergeron/Krejci tandem at centre. Imagine playing AWAY games and opposing coaches saying “SHIT, who do I pair up against who?” Some may argue that there difference in age wont allow for a long run together. Who cares? We have Mark Hunter. You don’t think he will hit another home run at centre in the next couple years? Give your head a shake. Kadri will most likely stay and be part of the first phase of the Shanaplan, maybe more.
The puck is on his stick, and he knows it.