The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a cap pinch this offseason. With Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson all needing new contracts, General Manager Kyle Dubas and the management team will have to move contracts to make space. One player that’s been mentioned as a trade option since the playoffs is Nazem Kadri. However, moving Kadri would be a mistake the Maple Leafs would quickly regret.
Fans are calling for Kadri to be traded because of his history of suspensions, especially in the playoffs, including two years in a row in the postseason. These suspensions have caused many to think he is unreliable going forward.
Kadri’s 2018 Playoffs
The talk about Kadri’s unreliability started a year ago, in the first round. The Maple Leafs were in Game 1 of their series with the Boston Bruins, and like this year, it was set to be a close series. Again, like this season, the Bruins were the slight favourites, but if the Leafs played well, they could come out on top. Except, in Game 1 of the series, Kadri boarded Tommy Wingels.
Kadri already had three career suspensions at this point, and he was punished more severely as a repeat offender. The result was a three-game suspension. With Kadri in the press box, the Maple Leafs lost two of three games, and were down 3-1 in the series. When he returned the Leafs won Games 5 and 6, and if not for a third-period collapse in Game 7, may have won the series.
Kadri’s 2019 Playoffs
That brings us to this season, when the Maple Leafs once again faced off against the Bruins in the first round. However, this year the Maple Leafs took the series lead with a win in Game 1. Looking to head home with a 2-0 series lead, the Leafs were unable to find the level of play they reached in Game 1, and by the end of the second period were down 3-0.
The game looked to be over but with 10 minutes left, Kadri scored to cut the lead to two, giving the Leafs life. A two-goal lead is manageable, especially with the offensive ability of the Maple Leafs. However, just four minutes later, Kadri cross-checked Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk in the head. He earned a five-minute major penalty for the play and was ejected from the game. This put the Maple Leafs on the penalty kill for all but the last minute of the game, ending any chance of a comeback.
Unfortunately, Kadri wasn’t just ejected from the game, the NHL Department of Player Safety decided that, as a repeat offender, Kadri would be suspended for the remainder of the first round. Without Kadri, head coach Mike Babcock no longer had the ability to role his top three lines effectively. The Maple Leafs’ biggest strength, their centre depth, was no longer there.
The Maple Leafs lost the series in Game 7 again. All the games were close except for the final one, and one must wonder if having Kadri on the ice for the rest of the series would have made a difference. However, that’s a question we’ll never have an answer to, and it won’t change the Maple Leafs finishing the year with a disappointing result.
Kadri’s Offensive Ability
Despite that fans want him traded, losing Kadri would be a huge mistake that management would regret.
The biggest strength the Maple Leafs have is their offence. The team finished fourth in the league in goals scored. That offensive acumen comes from their overall depth, but it’s led by their depth down the middle. With Kadri as their third line centre, Babcock has three lines that possess dangerous offensive abilities.
If Kadri is taken out of the lineup, Babcock must move Nylander to centre and suddenly the Leafs’ three lines are diluted.
Having three natural centres in Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Kadri, who all have star power, is the team’s biggest strength.
Defence and Cheap Contract
Furthermore, many may have been put off by Kadri’s sub-par season. He only scored 16 goals and 44 points in 73 games. This was after back-to-back 32-goal seasons. However, this season he also had his lowest shooting percentage since 2015-16. He shot at just 8.7% which is nearly 3% below his career average, and 6.5% below is percentage last season.
Additionally, it can’t be forgotten that Kadri has grown into a stellar faceoff man. He won 55.2% of his faceoffs this postseason. That, coupled with his strong defensive play, makes him a great option for Babcock on the penalty kill.
The biggest reason for keeping Kadri is his contract. He’s set to make just $4.5 million for the next three seasons. For a player of his talent, that’s a steal. Some good comparables for Kadri are Derek Stepan and Logan Couture. Stepan makes $6.5 million and Couture made $6 million until the end of this season. Both players produced around the 50-60-point range at the time of their contract signings, like Kadri. Looking at those two numbers it can be argued that Kadri is underpaid.
Maple Leafs Need Kadri
Going forward the Maple Leafs will have their work cut out for them when it comes to the salary cap. In order to remain a contender, they will need team friendly contracts, and Kadri has one of them. Trading Kadri might feel like the right decision now, but if the Maple Leafs want to contend, they need him.