Nazem Kadri: Equal To or Greater Than Ryan Johansen

Ryan Kesler
(Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

I know what you’re thinking: this crazy cat is just trolling for hits.  There is NO WAY that Nazem Kadri is better than Ryan Johansen! You’d be forgiven for thinking that – Johansen certainly does have a far better reputation than Kadri. And certainly I was called some pretty classy names when I suggested as much in the Tweet Zone.

To wit: when I first suggested this on Twitter, I got a plethora of responses ranging from “Tanner you’re an idiot,” to the classic (and played out) “Don’t you even watch the games?”  The consensus: I am nuts.

But am I?

When I asked the question: Is  Ryan Johansen a #1 Centre, and if so, where do you rank him among NHL centres? The responses I received were unanimous – Johansen is DEFINITELY a #1 NHL Centre. People ranked him from top ten to to twenty. 

The same question about Kadri several weeks ago had various answers but almost no one agreed that he was a #1. The most common answer “He’s a pretty good #2.”

Setting the Stage

Now, it’s no secret that I am a huge Nazem Kadri fan – I have written that he’s a legit #1 Centre (just not deployed as one by the Leafs) and that he is already the Leafs’ best player. So, feel free to write-off what I am about to say as the bias rantings of someone who can’t be objective.  Feel free to do that, but know that I don’t consider it fair.  Yes, I am a fan, but I am using data that is empirical and to the best of my knowledge true. I am leaving subjective things like “compete level” and the “eye test” to better minds.

I already know what I think, but if you have an open mind, I suggest you check out some of the data I have compiled, (using NHL.com, HocekyDB.com and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.) and then draw your own conclusions.

I only ask one thing: try to come at this with an open mind. Think about how you “know” that Johansen is better. Do you watch both players equally? Do you watch with the eyes of a scout, or distractedly while you drink with your buddies?

I know this: I watch as much hockey as I can – and probably more than the normal person, since I get paid to watch it – but I don’t really think that, unless it’s your full-time job, anyone can watch enough games to be a truly objective judge.  (Which is why I try to let the stats speak for themselves). However, based on the strength of people’s opinions(including my own) you would think that everyone watched every game by every player and was completely objective. But, my suspicion is that everyone – fans, refs, coaches, gms, scouts and myself – puts too much stock in a players reputation when making evaluations.

So, check out the following comparisons and tell me – honestly – if you really believe that one player is a top ten (top twenty at worst) and the other is an “average” second liner?

By the way: I chose this comparison because both players were drafted a year apart and have played a nearly identical amount of time in the NHL.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Hey, he’s OK, but he’s no Kadri!(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Comparison

Kadri, in all situations:  GP: 227 Goals: 60 Assists: 81 Total Points: 141

Johansen, in all Situations: GP:238 Goals: 66 Assists: 75 Total Points: 141

Kadri, Even Strength: Goals: 39 Assists: 62

Johansens, Even Strength: Goals: 43 Assists: 42

What we see here is that even though Kadri has played 11 less NHL games, he has the same amount of points than Johansen. When we take off special-teams points, we see that Kadri’s numbers are even better because most of his were scored at even strength. In fact, while goals are close to even, Kadri has nearly 50% more assists 5v5 than Johansen does.

Furthermore, this suggests that if given the same opportunities, Kadri would far out-pace the points Johansen puts up, since Johansen has, over their careers, gotten more PP time and Kadri’s PP time has largely been on the second unit, where, for at least the last two seasons, Johansen has been the go-to offensive player on the Jackets.

Here’s some more:

Kadri: Ice Time: 3042 5v5 mins, career Points per 60 Mins: 1.99  CF% (last 3 years) 47%

Johansen: Ice Time: 3048 5v5 mins, career Points Per 60 Mins: 1.67 CF%(Last 3 years) 48.1%

What we see here is that over the course of 60 minutes Kadri will produce slightly more than Johansen and that both players are close in possession numbers, with decent ratings considering the teams they have played for in the last three years.  An edge goes to Johansen because 1% is significant in these rankings, however it should be noted that for at least one of those three years Columbus was an excellent team and that the Leafs are notorious for being a bad possession team. Despite this, Kadri puts up respectable numbers.

While his defensive game is derided by some (and neither of these players is a Bergeron) accounting for the team Kadri plays on, and given that this is a three-year sample, it suggests that he isn’t anywhere near as bad as made out to be without the puck, since when he is on the ice, the Leafs tend to have the puck more than when he isn’t.

What will it take for Nazem Kadri to stick with the Maple Leafs? (bridgetds, Flickr)
(bridgetds, Flickr)

Looking into this current season is also illuminating:

Kadri: 50 games, 28 points.

Johansen: 49 games, 45 points

That looks bad for my hypothesis – until, that is, I point out that both players have the same amount of points at even strength – 21.  Furthermore, Johansen averages an extra 46 seconds/ game on the power-play than Kadri does.  Johansen is also on the top PP unit and gets to play with the best players on his team.  Kadri is on the second unit and does not. As such, Kadri has only 4 PP points.

Tyler Bozak, however, has 13 more points on the PP than Kadri. Since Bozak is less talented than kadri (And there is no way anyone who disputes that read this far) I think it’s only fair to say that if Kadri got Bozak’s PP time and team-mates, that he would have the same amount of points as Bozak does (at least).

If we give Bozak’s PP points to Kadri, for the sake of our comparison, then Kadri would have 41 points despite playing on a team that went on a historic, near-record-breaking cold-streak where the team collectively shot around 3% over ten games. (Or over 10% of a season).

Basically, if we adjust for team strengths, we see that Kadri, were he deployed in anything approaching a sensible fashion by his former coach, would be right near Johansen in total points for this season.

Here is a list of players with between 41-45  points so far this year: Kessel, JVR, Johansen, Benn, Okposo, Thornton, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Toews.

But apparently, Kadri, he’s just an “average second-liner.”

Ok, I hear you saying, that’s points, but there’s more to hockey than that. What about faceoffs? Well, if you read this article (or Google many of the others like it) you will see that the value of face-offs has been massively oversold; so much so that as long as you are competent (both players are, but Johansen is better) it’s not a make-or-break thing for a #1 C to be “just all-right” on the draw.

As for defense, what can you say? They both put up strikingly similar possession numbers which suggest that they both contribute defensively to their teams.

Quality of competition? Let’s let my favorite Stats guy tell it like it is:

https://twitter.com/SteveBurtch/status/562711270747807744

 

And one more for good measure:

https://twitter.com/SteveBurtch/status/562678585719525376

So, it’s up to you: Kadri and Johansen are either both legit #1 centres or they’re both just average second liners.  But you can’t possibly tell me that either one is all that much better than the other.

*Drops Mic *