Note: All stats correct as of before Calgary game
To paraphrase an old adage from Paul Coffey: “Hockey’s a funny game. You have to prove yourself every shift, every game. It’s not up to anybody else. You have to take pride in yourself.” One man who seems to live by this is Toronto Maple Leafs centre Nazem Kadri, arguably one of the team’s most under-appreciated players over the past few years.
At the end of a nine-game point streak – the highest in his NHL career – it is important to reflect upon the good work that Nazem Kadri has done and just how important he has become for this Maple Leafs franchise.
For a man who has in the past been referred to as a “pest” for his exuberant, chippy and sometimes reckless style of play, it is sometimes easy to overlook just how productive the 27-year-old forward has been not just recently, but over the course of his tenure with the Leafs.
Kadri is one of those players who, let’s be honest, is not exactly well liked by opposition fans. You could say the scale goes from a mild intolerance to absolute and pure hatred, depending on what the Ontario-born centre has done to that particular club. And that’s probably exactly the way he likes it.
On Saturday night in the 4-2 home loss to the Washington Capitals, Kadri saw his streak ended at nine games, registering five goals and five assists in that span including some vital points along the way. For example, his goal on the road at Florida got a crucial point, but that wasn’t the headline from the game.
Kadri accidentally struck the face of a penalty-box official at the BB&T Center with the end of his stick towards the end of the Leafs’ game against the Florida Panthers. He instantly admitted he was wrong, and couldn’t apologise enough.
“I feel terrible about it,” Kadri said after practice on Thursday afternoon.
“I kind of got out of control. I didn’t even realize I hit him, to be honest with you, until I saw the replay afterward.
“I must have apologized to him a thousand times in the penalty box. Hopefully he forgave me. I tried reaching out to him and I’m going to send him something just to solidify my apology. But I’m sincere about that. I lost control and that won’t happen again.”
While his actions at the time may not have been, his reaction to the incident has been that of a classy individual, and one that Toronto fans should be proud to have as a member of their organisation.
Interestingly though this season Kadri has only taken four minor penalties, yet the opposition has been called for 11 minors on him. That appears to show that his style is paying dividends; and that is a useful asset for coach Mike Babcock.
Alternate captain Morgan Rielly admitted after the Florida game that he has been hugely impressed by the player Kadri has moulded himself into.
“He plays the game hard. He plays with a lot of speed. He’s a big body. He gets involved. More so than that, players play hard against him,” said Rielly.
“He’s driving that line and he’s doing a good job of getting pucks on net and scoring goals. He’s one of the best players in the world. That’s what we expect out of him.”
The Ontario-born former London Knight has 21 points through 25 games so far in the 2017/18 season, meaning he is on pace for somewhere between a 68 and 69 point season (68.88).
To put that into perspective, a 69-point season would be comfortably his biggest tally as a Leaf. Last season, Kadri managed 61 points in 82 games played which set a new career high for him, and since the 2010-11 season (his first real sustained run of games in the NHL) his points returns have been 7, 44, 50, 39 and 45 before the 61 he amassed last campaign.
Admittedly, between the start of the 10-11 season and the end of the 15-16 season, Kadri averaged just over 54 games per season, so you could understand why his points totals may not have been quite as high as last season or indeed what he is projected for this season. It is also worth noting that during the 2012/13 season, Kadri racked up 44 points in 48 games, putting him on course for somewhere between a 75 and 76-point return over 82 games.
Strikingly though, Nazem has an average ice time of only 16:09 per game so far this season, which would be his lowest ATOI since 2012/13 (16:03). In fact, since 12/13 his ATOI has been as high as 18:16, but has averaged out at 17:28 – a whole minute and 19 seconds more than he is on pace for this season. To put that in context, that’s over 89-and-a-half minutes worth of action he would be missing out on over the course of the season.
Looking more closely at goals, Kadri is on course for between 36 and 37 goals during the 2017/18 season, which would again represent an increase in the career-high 32 he managed last year. Furthermore, he is on pace for 33 assists this season, which would be up four from last season’s total.
Interestingly this provides a nice sub-plot when looking at Kadri’s time as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite the number of games played per season fluctuating, the 2009 first-round draft pick has always put up fairly consistent assist number. Between the 2012/13 season (his first with over 45 games played) and the 2016/17 season, Kadri has amassed the following assist totals: 26, 30, 21, 28 and 29. That is a pretty good level of consistency.
One thing that has not been so consistent is the number of penalty minutes Kadri has taken. Between the 12/13 season and the 16/17 season his PIM numbers have been 23, 67, 28, 73 and 95. He is on 14 penalty minutes so far this season, so he is on course for about 46 – pretty much middle of the road when looking at his last five seasons.
Another indication of upward trend this season would be his plus/minus number, which currently stands at +4 thus far in 2017/18. As you can see from the table above, that puts him on track for a huge improvement over previous years. Perhaps a sign of him being in a better team or surrounded by better line mates, but also maybe an indication that he himself is still developing despite being 27.
Although the 2016/17 season was considered a breakout season in terms of offense for Kadri, he received the most plaudits for improvements in his defensive game; namely his transition play, puck retrievals, checking and positioning. There were even discussions that he could be a contender for the Selke trophy, an accolade awarded to the player who has demonstrated the most defensive skill in that particular season. In the end, he finished 20th in the voting.
Just to put everything back into perspective once again, Kadri’s 21 points so far this season have have tied for 39th most in the NHL this season. He’s surrounded by the likes of Jamie Benn, Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin – four players who have cap hits of $9.5m, $10.5m, $8.7m and $9.5m respectively.
Nazem Kadri’s cap hit? $4.5million. I’m not saying he’s going to keep pace with some of the aforementioned names. That would be unfair on him in terms of expectation. But for that kind of money and what he offers to this Leafs team, he may be the best all-round centre available for that kind of money.
Let us all treasure what we have with Naz. After all, you never realise how good something is until it’s gone.