Revisiting the Nazem Kadri Trade

When the Toronto Maple Leafs completed their 2018-19 season, they had failed once again to get past the dreaded Boston Bruins during the first playoff series. When the season concluded, general manager Kyle Dubas had some heavy lifting to do. His defense was weak and, as the general manager, he faced salary-cap problems brought on in part by expensive contracts being paid to no-longer-worth-the-money players like Patrick Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev who had been signed by his predecessor Lou Lamoriello.

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It’s also fair to say Dubas had contributed to the salary-cap issues by negotiating expensive contracts with William Nylander and Auston Matthews that would cost the team into the future. But those were “his” team-building choices and the attendant problems that arose would be “his” to fix. Obviously, Dubas will be responsible for those choices for several more years.

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

During the 2019 offseason, Dubas moved several Maple Leafs players. Among them were Marleau, Jake Gardiner, and four players who moved to the Ottawa Senators – some by trade and some as free agents – Connor Brown, Ron Hainsey, Zaitsev, and Tyler Ennis.

Why Nazem Kadri Had to Be Traded

One player remained who, eventually, Dubas decided should be moved. That was Nazem Kadri. When Dubas signed now-captain John Tavares as a free agent when his New York Islanders contract expired after the 2017-18 season, the writing was on the wall for Kadri. Matthews was emerging into a superstar center and Tavares would be the other; Kadri’s salary-cap hit – as team-friendly as it was – was simply too was much to pay a third-line center. In addition, his trade value was simply too high to convert him into a winger when cheaper wingers were options.

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At the time, there was also an uprising among some Maple Leafs fans that Kadri was playing out of control and that his playoff suspensions held the team back and could not be tolerated. True, Kadri played with a sense of vigilante justice and couldn’t help but stand up for his teammates. That he was regularly penalized by officials for such behavior, and seemingly at the least opportune times, caused many to believe his style of play had become a problem for the team and it was time to let him go.

As much as I didn’t agree with that sentiment, sadly I also believed trading Kadri was necessary for the team. What I didn’t like about the trade was that, in Kadri, the Maple Leafs had a player who bled blue and white and probably bled it literally and to a fault.

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Kadri Was Devastated to Leave His Beloved Maple Leafs

Kadri simply didn’t want to leave Toronto and tried everything he could think of to stay. The Maple Leafs were a team he had grown up with; and Toronto, as tough as it was to play in and for as much criticism as he faced, was his town. He said as much to the fans.

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Ironically, Kadri had invoked his no-trade clause to turn down a trade to the Calgary Flames for TJ Brodie. First, Brodie came to the Maple Leafs when he hit free agency. Second, after his stint with the Colorado Avalanche, Kadri signed as a free agent prior to the 2022-23 season in (of all places) Calgary.

Nazem Kadri Colorado Avalanche
Nazem Kadri, Colorado Avalanche (Getty Images)

At the time of his trade from the Maple Leafs, Kadri was devastated. He posted a note to Toronto fans:

“10 years. What can I say,” Kadri’s post read. “Words cannot describe what [Toronto] means to me. You welcomed me in as a boy and watched me grow and evolve in front of your eyes. … Forever a special place in my heart.”

Kadri Traded to the Avalanche

On July 1, 2019, 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 seen the writing on the wall; and, after turning down a trade to the Calgary Flames, he agreed to be moved to the Avalanche.

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Kadri’s former teammate and current St. Louis Blues player Tyler Bozak noted that Kadri was an “unbelievable” acquisition for the Avalanche. Bozak believed 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.”

Kadri’s Tenure in Colorado & Stanley Cup Win

Because I liked him as a player when he played for the Maple Leafs, I’d followed Kadri’s career since he moved to the Avalanche. There he had three good seasons. That was especially true in 2021-22, when at the age of 31 he had a career season – and by a wide margin.

His previous best season had been with the Maple Leafs in 2016-17 when he scored 32 goals and added 29 assists (for 61 points) in 82 games. In 2021-22, he scored 28 goals and added 59 assists (for 87 points) in only 71 games. As well, he helped lead the Avalanche to the 2022 Stanley Cup and did so with an injured thumb.

Colorado Avalanche Celebrate
Nazem Kadri, Josh Manson, Samuel Girard and Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche celebrate Manson’s game-winning goal against the St. Louis Blues in Game One of the Second Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

As always, Kadri was a warrior. In the month prior to the Stanley Cup, Kadri underwent an operation on his thumb. The first report was that he would not be able to play during the Final. However, Kadri would not be kept off the ice. The pain from his injury was so severe that he couldn’t lace up his own skates for the last three games of the Stanley Cup finals.

Yet, in his first game back, he scored the game-winner at 12:02 of overtime as the Avalanche beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. For the entire playoffs, Kadri registered 15 points (on seven goals and eight assists) in 16 playoff games. In doing so, he helped the Avalanche win their first Stanley Cup since 2001.

Kadri Leveraged His Great Season into a Big Contract with the Flames

In Aug. 2022, Kadri signed a seven-year, $49 million contract with the Calgary Flames – the same team he had rejected years earlier. As Kadri noted at the time of the signing, “Calgary was interested from Day One, which is always something I’ve respected and acknowledged.”

Nazem Kadri Calgary Flames
Nazem Kadri, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Kadri added that, for him, free agency “was definitely a tricky process, but there were some decisions to be made. Obviously, I’m a Canadian boy (born in London, Ontario). I love the country of Canada, love the city of Calgary, and more importantly, the direction of the team. Really, when it boiled down to decision-making time, those were the aspects of signing with Calgary.”

Wishing Kadri Luck During the Remainder of His Career

I get it that sport is a professional enterprise and that players are movable commodities. However, Kadri is an example of a player who wears his heart on his sleeve. Fans have come to appreciate that about him. Although he’s no longer with the Maple Leafs, he retains many fans in Toronto and throughout Ontario who continue to root for the soon-to-be 32-year-old London, Ontario, native.

Kadri had a solid career first with the Maple Leafs, second with the Avalanche, and now with the Flames. Wherever he’s gone, he’s landed well. His career movement wasn’t always his choice. Now he’s with a team and in a city where he made the choice to move. Good luck to him during the remainder of his NHL career.

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