The NHL has become boring and predictable on the trade front. That’s a massive understatement.
The name of the game these days is keeping your high end talent at all costs. While there are some blockbuster hockey trades (Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones, P.K. Subban for Shea Weber etc, I’ll omit any deal made by Peter Chiarelli because it’s Chiarelli), more often than not it’s the supporting cast and complimentary players that move from team to team. Teams with depth feeding teams without, in order to keep the balance that the salary cap is supposed to keep, and in order to pay the players that keep ticket sales up, even if your team isn’t a true contender.
And this is where the Leafs find themselves. A team that is simply looking to keep it’s stars in house. Thanks to an abundance of star power, a couple of stubborn contracts, and the higher than expected demand from those stars, they may need to move some contracts and the players attached to those deals in order to straighten out the books.
Enter Nazem Kadri.
Rumours involving Nazem Kadri are starting to circulate, and why not? With a drop in production, a second consecutive 1st round suspension, and 4.5M committed to your 3C, wasn’t it only a matter of time before “The Suspendable Expendable” heard his name whispered in trade talks? Maybe this would be crazy talk if not for his latest suspendable infraction, but recency bias has people thinking and talking, so let’s talk.
Many agree that for 4.5M per season Nazem is on a contract that is more than fair. He hit the 30 goal plateau twice, brings a heavy element of grit, can match up against tough competition, and can throw star players off their game. He’s still in his prime years as well, and with the addition of John Tavares it could simply be that his production has only dropped because he’s been buried behind 2 star centres (who saw that coming 4 years ago!?!?).
So why move him?
Simply put, they may not have a choice if they want to keep ALL of their top end stars. With William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and John Tavares locked in for at least the next 5 years, and with Mitch Marner primed to make a loot on his next contract, the Leafs are hard up for cap space.
Other options to trade are Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev, but what if that proves too difficult? For starters Marleau has a full NMC, so all he has to do is refuse to waive and he’ll be in Toronto for another year. So lets assume that’s the case, because as far as I can tell he’s happy in Toronto and he knows he has a chance to win here. Next is Zaitsev and his remaining 5 years and 22.5M owed. That’s a tough pill to swallow for any team, especially if you consider the fact that he has amassed 27pts over the past 2 seasons combined and has looked unsteady much of the time. So lets assume they can’t find a buyer without paying an exorbitant amount.
Who is left to move that takes up a reasonable chunk of cap space after those two?
The list is short.
All of Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Frederik Andersen make between 4-5M, but all three are extremely important to the short and/or long term success of the team. Then you have Zach Hyman and Connor Brown, but at 2.25M and 2.1M respectively, you’re only getting minimal relief.
This leaves Kadri, a player of value that plays a position of need for many teams, and one that can give 4.5M in cap relief.
It’s for these reasons (disregard the suspension jokes) that I think Kadri has played his last game as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Which begs the question, which teams may have interest, and which ones make sense for the Leafs?
The Winnipeg Jets
One rumour has him heading to Winnipeg.
The Jets traded for Paul Stastny at the trade deadline last season and then for Kevin Hayes this season. Paul Stastny walked in the offseason after he was acquired and it now looks like Kevin Hayes will do the same. I wonder if they’d be happy to lock a player in during the offseason and be done with it for the next 3 years? With just over 25M in cap space and a few big ticket players to sign, it’s unclear if the Jets could fit Nazem into their lineup. Also, having spent the required picks and prospects to attain Stastny and Hayes they may be hesitant to dip into the pool again.
Possible players of interest could be prospects such as Logan Stanley or Sami Niku, as well as future 1st or 2nd rounders, but they are without their 1st and 3rd round picks this year, so again, they may shy away from trading more picks right now.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Not exactly a match made in heaven but the Jackets will need centre depth after Matt Duchene walks this summer, and they’ll have the space to take on 4.5M without sending salary back. So why isn’t it a match made in heaven? Because, simply put, it only really works for Columbus.
Without a 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, or 6th pick in this years draft, a 2nd or 3rd in next years draft, and no 2nd in 2021, they are VERY thin on picks to trade. On top of that they don’t have a ton of prospects with which to deal either. A few secondary prospects, sure, but nothing I’d consider a home run. So, unless you’re looking at dealing for current NHLers that will chomp down on the amount of cap space you’re actually going to free up then I’d suggest looking elsewhere.
The Stars are another team that could use some depth down the middle. With Martin Hanzal having only played 7 games this season due to injury, Jason Spezza heading to unrestricted free agency, and Radek Faksa continuously coming in around the 30pt mark, nabbing a potential 50+ point pivot to slot in behind Tyler Seguin may be just what the doctor ordered.
The problem here is much like the one in Columbus though. The Stars are without picks in the 2nd and 3rd round this year. They’re also lacking a 2nd round pick next season, and if they re-sign Mats Zuccarrello they’ll be without a 1st as well.
However, they do have a better selection of players in the system if they wanted to make a move. Players such as Jason Dickinson, Brett Ritchie, and Julius Honka could all play for the Leafs this year and would come in on cheap contracts. All have some potential and could serve a purpose. Ritchie brings a level of size and physicality the Leafs lack, Honka would add depth as a right shot defender while still holding some potential, and Dickinson just enjoyed a 67 game season that saw him produce 22pts while logging 1:28 minutes a game shorthanded with no powerplay time. He’s an NHL player in the development stages (as is Honka) and that might just work behind the depth that is Matthews and Tavares. One or two of those players, along with a future pick to even out the value may help both teams.
This is a team that could look at Kadri if they feel pressure to return to the post season in a hurry…. and that could be exactly what the situation looks like in California.
Ryan Kesler underwent hip surgery a few weeks ago and it’s possible that he could be out for the duration of the 2019-20 season. That leaves the team with two proven centres in Ryan Getzlaf and Adam Henrique. They also have players such as Sam Steel and Devin Shore with some experience, but as far as guys that have done it for a while they aren’t exactly flush. On top of this, Getzlaf hasn’t played a full NHL season since 2011-12 and has missed 41 games over the past 2 seasons. While he has never had what you’d call a devastating injury, taking a little pressure off their captain may be a good play if they want to win while he is still there.
Maybe this is just me being hopeful that they can wrench some good young players out of Anaheim though. The list of young players on the way is long and includes Max Jones, Josh Mahura, Max Comtois, Isac Lundestrom, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, and Jacob Larsson. This without bringing up young players that have already made an impact on the roster such as Sam Steel, Troy Terry, Nick Ritchie, and Ondrej Kase (among others). The Ducks are a fountain of youth right now and could go one of two ways. They could spend a little in order to up their current chances, or they could wait it out and hope that much of this talent pans out. For the sake of the Leafs it would be nice if they decide to spend.
Wait, did I forget to mention they have two picks (#9 and #29) in the 1st round this year? High picks, good prospects and a want to win, maybe this is the ideal trade partner?
The rumour is that the Wild has a lot of interest in Kadri, and with an aging core and them making so many moves lately, this is a team to watch.
The Wild have all their picks in the first three rounds for the next three years, if they’re willing to move any of those I’d listen (especially if they are unprotected 1st rounders). They don’t have a ton of prospects to deal, but they have a few young players on the roster that would be of interest such as Joel Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway, and Luke Kunin.
The biggest knock on the Avalanche this season was their lack of secondary scoring. Nazem could really help with that if he can get back to his 30 goal ways.
With a ton of cap space, and Mikko Rantanen being their only big time player without a contract, the Avs may need to add to their roster if they want to hit the cap floor this year. They have a few prospects they may want to move but their best ones are already plying their trade at the NHL level. Players such as Tyson Jost, JT Compher, and Samuel Girard (to name a few) might be best served if they add a player to allow a little more shelter. So if they aren’t willing to move those players then what is their offer?
With the #4 pick in the draft, thanks to the Ottawa Senators, Colorado may be a little more willing to move on from their own pick this season. Their own pick in the first round (#16) may be in play and I think I’d have a lot of interest in that if I’m Kyle Dubas.
After going deep into the playoffs this season owner Tom Dundon may have an appetite for more. Better yet, he may have expectations for more, and that could play into the hands of Kyle Dubas.
The Canes are entering the offseason with just over 28M in cap space. They have a few key pieces to sign, such as Sebastian Aho, Justin Williams, Michael Ferland, Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek, but they should still have space to spare. They’re trying their best to move on from Scott Darling as well, which will open even more space if they’re successful, and it’s also possible that they could move out a defenseman.
While most will suggest the Leafs move Kadri straight up for one of those defenders, if it’s cap space you’re looking for the Hurricanes might still be a team that can help. Players such as Lucas Wallmark or Martin Necas could jump right into the NHL to help at the centre position. They also have a flurry of prospects that aren’t far from making the jump. I’d put the spotlight on players such as Jake Bean, Julian Gauthier, Eetu Luostarinen, Haydn Fleury, and Roland McKeown.
As well as all of this the Canes own three picks in the 2nd round this season and three picks in the 3rd round next season (1 is conditional that could be a 2nd). They own all of their 1st and 2nd round picks in those years as well, so they have the picks and young players to deal for an established NHLer.
Carolina and Anaheim would seem like great fits to me. Both for their teams and the Leafs. If I’m Kyle Dubas I’d probably lean towards sending him as far out west as possible to avoid the inevitable concussions that Naz would deal to the Leafs’ players when he gets fired up playing his old team and loses control. But then again I do like the mix of defense and centres the Hurricanes could offer.
What say you Leaf Nation? Whats your ideal return for Naz if the sole purpose of the trade is to dump as much salary as possible?