No pun intended, but Nazen Kadri is in tough. By default, he’s the Toronto Maple Leafs’ enforcer and it’s a job that’s killing his career. It’s not that he can’t or is unwilling do it, but the role comes at a cost to his own game and to the team.
I believe, if he’s going to remain with the Maple Leafs, he needs to relinquish that role. Otherwise, he probably should be traded.
Maple Leafs Need Kadri to Play
Kadri is arguably the best third-line
Kadri wants to play in Toronto. That desire was evident when, at the end of the season, he all but promised never to be suspended again during the playoffs. But promising is one thing; making that a reality is another.
This season’s playoff series against the Boston Bruins marked the second time in as many seasons Kadri was suspended. That simply can’t happen. The Maple Leafs need him on the ice because they’re a better team with him than without him.
He’s also signed to a team-friendly contract, so it would be good if the team could keep him.
Kadri’s Recklessness Is Unacceptable
The Maple Leafs need an enforcer, and it cannot be Kadri. His recklessness on the ice can’t be tolerated. Because his playoff suspensions might have cost the team at least one series, Maple Leafs fans are rightfully asking: “Should Kadri be traded? What if he stays and gets suspended in the playoffs again?”
The fans are right. Burning the team with another suspension would be selfish, and one thing I believe about Kadri is that he isn’t self-focused, he’s team-focused.
Appreciating Kadri’s Intensity
In a way, Kadri can’t be faulted for the edge he plays with. He’s smart enough to know that the team needs an enforcer. Specifically, in the playoff game in which he was suspended, Debrusk’s hit on Patrick Marleau was dangerous. Someone had to respond.
But, Stanley Cup playoffs are typically intense. An opponent hits or slashes a teammate, and Kadri can’t help but respond. You have to love him for that. He cares and takes care of his teammates. This intensity makes him a good player, but it can push him to the point where he simply can’t check his response. That hurts the team.
Because Kadri hasn’t demonstrated that he can manage his edge, I believe the team needs to proactively do two things. First, general manager Kyle Dubas must bring someone in who will replace Kadri in the role of enforcer, from within the organization or outside it. Then, head coach Mike Babcock must sit Kadri down (which I believe has probably happened already) and tell him face-to-face how important he is to the team but that it’s no longer his job to be the team’s policeman. He’s being replaced.
Who Might Be Available?
From within the organization, the Toronto Marlies’ Mason Marchment seems like a player who might accept that role. He also seems smart enough to know when to engage and when to lay back. Plus, he brings some potential
Among NHL players, the Edmonton Oilers’ Milan Lucic would be perfect, but his $6 million per season contract is prohibitive. He’s an imposing 6-foot-3 and 236 pounds and can intimidate opponents. He’s fierce. At one time, he could score, however, the Maple Leafs don’t need his
Another possibility might be someone like the Vancouver Canucks’ Antoine Roussel. His cap hit is $3 million for another three seasons, which might fit the Maple Leafs’ budget. He’s tough, unafraid to engage in fisticuffs, and can contribute offensively. Last season, he played in 65 games for the
A final thought, also from the Oilers, is Brandon Manning. Given Manning’s history with Oilers captain Connor McDavid, he was inexplicably one of Peter Chiarelli’s final trades as general manager before he was canned. Manning is obviously not in the Oilers’ plans at all. He’s currently in hockey purgatory, ending the season with the AHL Bakersfield Condors, and probably could be had quite inexpensively. His cap hit is $2.25 million for another season.
Manning, who is 27 years old, literally had to fight his way into the NHL. Although he added some offensive production, that’s irrelevant to the Maple Leafs’ needs. He has a reputation for being out of control and his hit that injured McDavid in 2015 (which he admitted was meant to injure) was classless (as McDavid correctly called it). Perhaps he’s learned his lesson, but he’s the kind of player the Maple Leafs need.
Building on Kadri’s Contributions
Kadri is valuable as a shutdown guy who can free up other Maple Leafs lines to score, but he needs wingers who can provide at least some offensive threat to the opponents’ top lines. Even as the best third-line center in the NHL, his contract is less cap friendly than if he were a second-line center. What makes him so valuable is that he could spread the team’s offense across three lines. That makes the Maple Leafs a difficult team to play.
One argument against keeping Kadri is his contract, which is expensive for a third-line center. Another is his penchant for behavior that puts his team behind the eight ball. When those two things are considered together, is it time to move him? Clearly, Kadri’s suspensions must stop. Although his toughness is a quality teammates appreciate, he’s running out of rope.
If the team can’t protect him from his own intensity, sadly it might be time to trade him. I hope that doesn’t happen.