To build the team that the Toronto Maple Leafs ice this season, general manager Kyle Dubas had to do some heavy lifting. There were issues to be solved to make the team’s salary structure fit under the upper limit of the salary cap. For that to happen, players had to be moved. Sadly, for fans who are interested in watching players start with a team and develop over the course of their careers, that’s just part of the sad business of hockey these days.
Several popular Maple Leafs players became former Maple Leafs. Among them were Patrick Marleau, Jake Gardiner, and a quartet of players who moved to the Ottawa Senators – some by trade and some as free agent signees – Connor Brown, Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, and Tyler Ennis.
However, one player eventually moved, but simply didn’t want to leave Toronto and tried everything he could to stay. That player was Nazem Kadri. Maple Leafs fans had come to know him as a guy who played with his heart on his sleeve, and his heart was broken when he was traded from the team he had grown up with.
Some Maple Leafs fans – those with a pragmatic bent – noted that Kadri played out-of-control. Because he had a vigilante propensity to stand up for teammates and was penalized by officials for that behavior, they believed his play had become an issue to the team and it was time to let him go. For other Maple Leafs fans, Kadri was the epitome of a player who bled blue and white – and, perhaps, bled it literally and to a fault.
Regardless of where Maple Leafs fans sat on the Kadri issue, it matters little because he’s gone. However, for many, he’s not forgotten. I, for one, am one of those fans who follow Kadri and a number of former Maple Leafs players this season. I still root for them except, perhaps, when they play Toronto.
Although the season is still relatively young, in this post I thought I would offer Maple Leafs fans who once rooted for Kadri a sense of how he’s doing this season with his new team.
Nazem Kadri’s Backstory
It’s hard to forget the day – July 1, 2019 – when Kadri was traded to the Colorado Avalanche with Calle Rosen and a 2020 third-round pick in exchange for Tyson Barrie, Alex Kerfoot, and a 2020 sixth-round pick. Kadri had earlier turned down a trade with the Calgary Flames because he was crazy enough to hope there was a chance he could stay in Toronto. Finally, when he saw the writing on the wall, he agreed to be traded to the Avalanche.
The Avalanche had to be happy with the player they were getting. Kadri had played in Toronto for the first 10 years of his NHL career, and he was a good soldier. But, he was more than that. He had put up really good numbers for someone who had, at least for the past couple of seasons, played as the team’s third-line center. He was often assumed to be the best third center on any team in the NHL. In total, with the Maple Leafs, Kadri had scored 357 points in 561 career games.
Although last season was a letdown for Kadri, scoring only 16 goals and 44 points, it was clear the Avalanche believed that as an anomaly. He had two 30-goal seasons in a row, and he would be used differently in Colorado. His new team was going to give him top-six minutes. Surely, Kadri would contribute more scoring than he had with Toronto.
In fact, on Aug. 19, Tyler Bozak, a former teammate of Kadri and currently with the St. Louis Blues, noted that Kadri was an “unbelievable” acquisition for the Avalanche. His thinking? Bozak noted that Kadri was “obviously a guy who is built for the Central Division. He plays hard. He plays tough. And he can put the puck in the net.”
Given their history together – Bozak and Kadri both debuted with the Maple Leafs during the 2009-10 season and were teammates until Bozak signed with the Blues before the 2018-19 season – Bozak should know. As a member of last season’s Stanley Cup-winning Blues, Bozak scored 38 points in 72 regular-season games and added 13 points in 26 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Blues win the Stanley Cup for the first time. He knew the Central Division.
Bozak also noted that Kadri had “great skills and he’s got that nasty streak that a lot of guys don’t like playing against. Anybody can use a player like that: A guy who can throw his body around, score big goals and get into it with the other guys, get under guys’ skin. A very good all-around player.”
So, How’s Kadri Doing This Season?
Kadri played his first three games with the Avalanche and didn’t score. Finally, he scored his first goal against the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 12. He followed that game with a goal and two assists against the Washington Capitals. And, he’s been scoring consistently since then. To date, Kadri has 5 goals and 4 assists in 14 games for the season. If he continues on this pace, there’s a chance he’ll hit the 30-goal mark again this season.
On Nov. 1, Kadri reached a milestone with a power-play assist in the team’s 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars. That was the 200th assist in his career, which came on Nathan MacKinnon’s second-period goal. I note MacKinnon here because it looks as if Kadri will be joining forces with the talented Avalanche veteran.
Kadri has found a home in Denver, registering nine points, 22 hits and 32 shots on goal in 14 games. Recently, because Gabriel Landeskog (lower-body injury) has been sidelined, Kadri has shifted from his typical center position and is playing wing with star MacKinnon. The new top-line for the Avalanche has been Kadri, skating with MacKinnon and Joonas Donskoi.
Although that partnership might not be permanent, the now sometimes center/sometimes winger will likely continue being used in the top-six. If that happens, and especially if he plays more permanently with MacKinnon, look for his scoring to increase.
What’s the Prognosis for Kadri?
Kadri’s first season with the Avalanche started slowly but is now off to a flow. The Puck Prose Power Rankings for November listed Colorado as the fourth-best NHL team (By the way, the Maple Leafs were listed #19). And, Kadri has been a solid contributor to that success. In fact, look for him to contribute even more with Mikko Rantanen and captain Gabriel Landeskog out of action for a while.
So, to the question about how Kadri is doing so far with the Avalanche this season, the answer is just fine, thanks.
I, for one, wish him continued success with his new team – until, of course, he plays his old team.