A four-game suspension is all it took to end the NHL season for Maple Leafs’ forward Nazem Kadri. While he won’t don the blue leaf again in 2015-16, it might not be the end for Kadri just yet in Toronto.
Signed to a one-year contract prior to the season, Kadri was under the microscope by the new group of Leafs’ management. The goal – to take this one year contract as a chance to prove himself to Brendan Shanahan, Mark Hunter and the rest of the crew upstairs.
Now, with his season ultimately over, the question is whether the pending restricted free agent has done enough to earn himself a figurative stay of execution when it comes to the Leafs end goal – a full team rebuild.
Year in Review: Nazem Kadri’s 2015-16 Season
He’s one of the most criticized players in Toronto and possibly league-wide for his ability to draw penalties. Call it embellishment or whatever you’d like, he led the NHL in that category again in 2015-16. Yet, he remained one of the most consistent players in the Leafs lineup each and every game.
Quietly, he led the Leafs (to this point) in points with 45 and will likely finish the season atop the team’s scoring list. He sits second on Toronto with 17 goals behind only P-A Parenteau and Leo Komarov who both have 19. And to date, his 28 assists are the most of any Leaf this season.
On top of that, his 17 goals are the fourth highest season total of his career (20 in 2013-14, 18 in 2012-13 and 2014-15) and his 45 points is the highest since he reached the 50-point plateau in 2013-14. His 260 shots this season is 84 more than his career high (176) set back in 2014-15.
While the team surely wants more than a 45-point scorer leading the way, the fact is, Kadri did what was asked of him in taking a step toward developing his all around game. His ability in the face-off circle improved three percentage points from 46.2 in 2014 to 49.2 this season. He had a career high 148 hits this year and while his minus-15 isn’t anything to write home about, he did play a key role on the Leafs’ special teams.
Kadri’s Future Complicated Contractually
When the Leafs signed Kadri to the one-year, $4.1-million contract prior to the season, it was a player-prove-all type of deal. Essentially, the future of the 25-year-old’s Maple Leaf career rested on his shoulders and his shoulders only.
Now, 76 games removed from that signing and the Leafs have a bigger decision to make. Do they sign Kadri to another short-term deal or do they offer him something long term? Chances are, Kadri will be asking for a long-term deal that will take him to unrestricted free agency following it’s conclusion.
The Leafs, on the other hand, will likely be looking for another bridge-type contract. After all, Kadri will remain an RFA for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. So that’s where the question of money comes in. It’s safe to assume the asking price will be more than his $4.1-million from this season. The reigning team leader in points (likely) and arguably their top line centre – at least at this point – chances are he won’t settle for the ‘prove yourself’ contract the Leafs gave him just one year ago. However, when it comes to top line players and the dollar amounts they command, it’s hard to argue where Kadri sits among them.
And yet, he’s due more than his share after a somewhat impressive season with his team amidst their rebuild.
“You’ve got to assume the centre doesn’t replicate a 6.5 per cent shooting percentage,” writes Chris Johnston for Sportsnet. “This would have been a 27-goal season, rather than a 17-goal season, had he simply connected at his career rate of 10.5 per cent.”
He explains that if the Leafs look to sign Kadri to a short-term deal, it could cost the team long-term as he’d likely command more following another one or two-year deal. Kadri was forced to support some linemates this season that simply don’t stack up as first line players. And while he was able to line up across from some of the best on other teams, he fits better as a second line centre. At least that’s the argument when it comes to competitive teams.
Regardless, this offseason will be a statement to both Kadri and Leaf fans in regards to the direction of the team. While he’s now one of the longer serving Leafs, he remains a part of the regime that preceded those in control now. Known for holding out once before, that might not be an option for the former London Knight as the Leafs are still looking for Kadri to develop as a player on the ice and a person off of it.
While it won’t be determined right away – whether or not Kadri will be back in blue and white – one thing is for sure. Kadri found a way to impress his coach in 2015-16 with his competitiveness and determination – something that could certainly play into his favour as the Leafs continue forward with their rebuild and decision making on who to bring back next season.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.