The Toronto Maple Leafs have spent much of this off-season recruiting players from across the league and signing them to one and two-year deals. It provides an interesting dynamic for the team, as they are able to bring in all different types of skaters and personalities for relatively cheap.
Another bonus with these short contracts is that the players signed to them have immediate pressure to perform. There’s limited job security in the NHL and you can bet that these new acquisitions are looking to put their best foot forward and showcase that they can still play at a high level. Names like P.A. Parenteau, Mark Arcobello and Shawn Matthias stand to gain the most from the upcoming year.
However, there is another name and contract that Maple Leaf fans should be excited and optimistic about. The player I’m talking about is Nazem Kadri.
Why Should Fans be Excited?
Kadri was drafted seventh overall way back in 2009. The former London Knight has had his share of ups and downs as a key part of the Maple Leafs organization the last few years. He’s been criticized fairly and unfairly over his development, attitude and work ethic throughout his career.
Kadri and the Leafs recently agreed to a one-year deal that will pay him $4.1 million next season. This is why fans should get excited. First of all, Kadri now has a year to prove to himself and the organization that he is an elite player. If he is successfully able to do that, he should earn a nice payday at the end of the season. Money, success and leadership are usually pretty good motivators for a young and hungry player.
The beauty is, if for whatever reason this deal doesn’t work out, it only lasted a year. By the end of the season, the Maple Leafs front office should have been able to gather the necessary observations to determine if Kadri is indeed the right fit for the rebuilding Leafs team.
Short-term was most logical course for Leafs, Kadri. Opportunity for player to prove himself, opportunity for team to gauge long-term fit.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) July 5, 2015
Mike Babcock Effect
Mike Babcock is a tough coach. He expects the very best from his players and refuses to accept anything less than their best effort night in and night out. Babcock has said that he expects Kadri to be an elite player next season. Becoming elite means a few different things.
Babcock said he expects Kadri to be an "elite player" this season.
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) July 6, 2015
Kadri will first need to have a good season. That means putting some decent points on the board and showcasing his complete game in all three zones on the ice. It also means cleaning up his off-ice persona and avoiding incidents like least season that saw him suspended for missing a team meeting. Being elite in Babcock’s world means producing on the ice and being a role model off it, both with his teammates and in the public eye. Babcock is going to push Kadri hard all season long. He wants to see him succeed and will stay on him until he either does just that, or crumbles under the pressure.
What Can We Expect This Year?
Kadri is looking to take the next step in his development. He badly wants to elevate his game and prove to Babcock and Leafs management that he is a bona fide elite player in the NHL today. Kadri had his best statistical season as a Maple Leaf back in 2013-14 where he put up 50 points, including 20 goals.
With the new coaching style and confidence of Babcock, I think it’s not a far-off possibility that Kadri is able to score between 20 and 25 goals and a solid 60 points. He wants to prove that he is a viable option for the Maple Leafs long-term. Kadri has exactly one year to do just that. The pressure is squarely on his shoulders and he will be given every opportunity to succeed.
It’s a make or break year for the young forward. Coaching, management and fans will truly be able to see just how badly Kadri wants to succeed.