Leafs Have Finally Acquired Their Number-One Centre

I am not breaking the news on a trade. The Leafs have had Mats Sundin’s successor all along, they acquired him on June 26, 2009 with the seventh overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. His name, of course, is Nazem Kadri.

If you’ve been reading this column with any regularity, you know that I have been harshly criticizing Leafs’ Coach Randy Carlyle since the start of the year for his refusal to give Kadri more ice-time than Bozak, for playing Bozak ahead of Kadri, and for failing to provide Kadri with line-mates who might be able to keep up with his elite skill level.

On more than one occasion, I cited this as the main reason to fire Carlyle and despite the team’s recent success, I have not changed my mind on this topic at all.

In games in October, I was livid as Bozak was coming close to 20 minutes per night, while Kadri was getting around 14. Recently, with Carlyle utilizing his lines in a slightly more balanced – yet still totally insane – way, the discrepancy in their average nightly minutes has closed to a more realistic (but still horribly misguided) two-minutes less per night for Kadri.  Amazingly, Bozak is still playing an entire minute more per night with the man-advantage.

(Steven Christy/OKC Barons)
(Steven Christy/OKC Barons)

So, while this is still frustrating, it is at least an improvement and Kadri’s play is finally drawing rave reviews from the mainstream press and fair-weather fans, since the points are finally starting to match up with the quality of his game, which was never as bad as imagined by people who use points, reputation, and their memories as their sole basis for player evaluation.

In the last month, Kadri has gone only four games without registering a point. He’s hasn’t suddenly and magically improved though- he’s been pretty good the whole season, it’s just that due to factors beyond even the best player’s control, points do not always correlate with quality of play. Over this time Kadri has five goals and 13 points in 14. And yet, the majority of games have seen Tyler Bozak line up alongside Phil Kessel and JVR on the team’s top line. Kadri is a point-per-game playing on a line with Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli. Nothing against those dudes, but  Kessel and JVR they are not. This suggests that utilized properly, Kadri could be among the NHL’s leading scorers and best players.

One thing I have long maintained is that the Leafs cannot compete in the NHL without a top-line centre and a top-flight, first pairing defensemen to partner with Phaneuf.  I think they still need the defensemen (*Cough* Keith Yandle) but perhaps they finally found their centre. They’ve had him all along.

One of my favorite hockey writers is Steve Burtch of Sportsnet.  Last night he dropped a few Tweets that I think really illuminate just how good Kadri is. Burtch really is the master and you should read him; you’ll be a smarter hockey fan for it.




I like this one because it touches on what the entire stats evolution is about: perception vs. reality. If you compared Kadri to Tavares, my guess is that 99% of hockey fans would tell you that you are an idiot. But, Steve ran the stats and guess what? Kadri is just as good – even though he gets less ice time and less power-play time and plays with worse players.

And sure, you could argue that this also means that Kadri doesn’t go against the same defenses that Tavares does, and I do think Tavares is probably the better player, but it’s still illuminating.  And it definitively proves that Carlyle relying on Bozak as his top centre is nothing short of idiotic.  Besides, since Kadri starts much less frequently in an offensive position ,plays with worse players and gets less power-play time and less ice time in general, it must be conceded that  their stats being so close is not entirely because Tavares plays against better defensive players.



The most impressive thing about Kadri, to my mind, is his success at even strength. Teams that can score when they aren’t on the power-play are teams that win hockey games – it’s just that simple. And, as Burtch points out, Kadri is among the best players in the NHL at even strength.




The Leafs have their top line center. They should immediately make it so that Nazem Kadri skates with Phil Kessel on the team’s top line and is the first option on the power-play.  Arguments about “chemistry” are ridiculous and don’t hold water. The stats are available that show Kessel’s game improves when Kadri, not Bozak, is his centre. If you look here, you’ll see that Kessel’s CF% rises from 42.3% when he plays with anyone but Kadri to 48.3% when he and kadri play together.  This completely disproves the chemistry with Bozak argument, because, as the chart clearly shows, Kessel plays better with Kadri than with Bozak.

Yes, Bozak has been racking up the points, but they are coming while playing with two elite wingers and getting an unsustainable amount of special teams points. There is no reason to suggest that Bozak can continue to rack up points at this pace and even less reason to think that Kadri won’t.

Since the Leafs have their top line centre, I believe the  next move is to clear cap space  (Bozak, Lupul, Reimer) to sign Kadri and Franson. After that, if they want to compete for the Stanley Cup, they’ll need a legitimate top pairing guy to play with Phaneuf and second line centre with size to play behind Kadri.

Thanks for reading.


20 thoughts on “Leafs Have Finally Acquired Their Number-One Centre”

  1. Fire the coach and general manager would be the first good thing to do and yes move kadri up to first line be the second thing to do go leafs go

  2. Matt – Look, I can understand how you feel. When you find out that your feelings and memories about a game aren’t that reliable, it can be disconcerting, which makes it easy to lash out at people who might just possibly know what they’re talking about. I mean, once upon a time you could have been deemed a heretic for believing that the earth was round and that it was impossible to drive your boat off the edge. I can assure you I have played, watched and studied hockey my entire life – just how do you think I got this job? My best advice to you is instead of insulting what you don’t understand, try to learn about it. Then when you’re good and informed, come back with actual arguments about why I am incorrect, instead of relying on cliches and name-calling. Much appreciation.

  3. “Arguments about “chemistry” are ridiculous and don’t hold water.”

    Tanner, do you even watch hockey? Without staring squarely at the puck for 60 minutes? Watching what’s going on outside of the play? Have you played? Do you understand hockey theory? Its culture? Do you even watch Leafs games to see what they do with the puck? How they play it with different guys on their wings? Get back to us when you’ve done enough research on this fantastic sport, while leaving this gong show of a piece to people who actually knows what they’re talking about.

    Here’s a little hint to help you get started: The black disc thing goes into the net.

  4. Like Hemingway said, the first copy of everything is shit. While I can’t guarantee the text is now grammatically perfect, I have taken the time to clean it up as best I can in the time frame allotted and I thank you for pointing out the error of my ways. There’s only so much time in a day so what can I say? 99% of the writing you’re used to reading is professionally edited, but I do concede this one had more errors than I’d usually be comfortable with.

  5. Kadri is a higher skilled player than Bozak. I don’t think anybody debates that. But, to believe Kadri is in the same league as John Taveres is a sign of fanboy delusion. “… I do think Taveres is probably the better player…” are you kidding. There’s no probability about it. There’s a big difference between a guy who can play on the first line (i.e. Bozak, Kadri) and a franchise center. Kadri is a top player with elite skills that you can’t teach, no doubt, but there are some massive holes in his game, which are hidden now because he doesn’t draw the best opponents and his current line mates are actually very good (compared to last years line combos).

  6. This appears to be a well thought out article, but with all the grammatical, spelling errors almost impossible to read. Is the author a ‘real’ journalist? I’m a hockey fan of 50+ years and this has got to be one of the worst articles I’ve ever seen. Please, please James Tanner, do NOT rely on electronics to proofread and grammar check your writing. Do it yourself; if you don’t know how then learn how.

  7. What are the chances that Kadri has stronger numbers because he is getting matched up as a 2C while Bozak takes more difficult minutes?

    I’ve always been a fan of Kadri, and I wanted the stars to try to acquire him before they got Seguin. I think he has abundant skill, but if you found a way to match Seguin up against second-tier defenders instead of the elite ones, you have to think that would make his numbers jump to Crosby-like levels. If you play JVR-Kadri-Kessel, it would be much easier for teams to focus their shutdown players against that line.

  8. Who can argue with the way has them playing right now and why break the chemistry and how can you argue that Bozak has not earned his spot, he is playing fantastic and is one of the top producers on the team, it would be unfair to remove him, he has earned it

  9. You have completely missed the point, If you noticed this little streak the Leafs are on it is because they have finally found someone to play alongside Kadri. This is what Carlyle was trying to get, 2 productive lines, you might also have noticed that in the past when the top line did not score the chances of the Leafs winning was very slim. I agree he should be getting more powerplay time. Why would you want to get rid of Bozak, just to move Kadri up to the top line. NHL centers are hard to come by, just ask Edmonton, 20 years and they have only been able to get 2.

  10. I was going to write an in-deoth comment, but matt pretty much explained everything in a few sentences. Bozak has chemistry with JVR and Kessel, he is great in the face-off circle, can play on the PK and is a threat short-handed. Kadri has talent and a soft touch, but is far behind Bozak in being a well-rounded player. Love the fact the Leafs never traded Kadri when they could have many times, as he is a great asset to the team, but he’s not a number one centreman. Calling him Sundin’s sucsessor isn’t even fair, Mats came into the league on fire and was leaps and bounds better in his first few years than Kadri. Kadri cannot fill Sundin’s shoes/skates at this time and maybe never will. Not a knock on Kadri, just a testament to how good Sundin was. The team was built around Sundin. This team is not built around Kadri. Love Kadri’s play lately, but he is not the caliber of Sundin, yet.

  11. kadri has no chemistry with jvr and kessel. he is playing better BECAUSE of his new line mates not in spite of them. hockey isn’t just filling players in spots on the team and expecting them to produce at the same rate. some players play well with 14 mins and aren’t effective with more.
    useless article

  12. completely disagree with the fact that lupus, reimer and bozak should be traded. why trade 3 of the most valuable people on the team???

  13. Well said James. Totally agree. Shed salary and resign Kadri, Franson and Winnik. I would ask your thoughts on Gardiner. Percy and Holzer are ready (and cheap).

Comments are closed.