What Should the Maple Leafs Do with Nazem Kadri?

Nazem Kadri’s season is officially over. Kadri is going to miss the remaining few games of the season after receiving a four game suspension for cross-checking Detroit Red Wings player Luke Glendening in the head.

Even though the Toronto Maple Leafs still have three games left to play it seems fitting to look at Kadri’s future. Nazem Kadri is set to become a restricted free agent this summer and is going to be 26 years old in the fall, which means that he will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2017-18 season.

The Leafs need to decide whether they want to keep Kadri, in which case a long-term contract should be negotiated. But if the Leafs don’t see him as part of their core going forward or can’t agree on a contract then the Leafs should trade Kadri.

Re-signing Nazem Kadri

Since Kadri doesn’t become an unrestricted free agent until the summer of 2018 it might seem like giving him another one year contract would make the most sense. The only problem with that idea is that NHL players prefer longer contracts to make sure that they’ll continue being paid for many more years, which is obvious, so Kadri would most likely be against another one year deal.

Ultimately, it’s in the Leafs’ best interest to sign Kadri to a long-term contract now instead of the end of next season because it will allow the Leafs to avoid having to negotiate a contract that’s closer to when Kadri becomes a UFA. It also makes it possible for the Leafs to negotiate a lower salary based on a few reasons. This season was most likely a down season for Kadri production-wise because of his slow start, and that his line-mates were Michael Grabner and Leo Komarov. Kadri finished the season with 45 points in 76 games.


Now, if Kadri were to have better linemates, which seems likely for next season, then his point totals would be much higher. Kadri’s agent could use that to demand a higher salary in contract negotiations. So, for Toronto this is the best time to sign Kadri to a long-term contract.

If Kadri is going to sign with the Leafs, then what kind of contract should we expect? Most expect it to be a 5 year contract with an annual cap hit of $5 million. This may seem like a lot for what Kadri contributes to the team, but it’s actually an average contract for most second line centers in the NHL. Players like Carl Soderberg, Derick Brassard, and Valtteri Filppula all have contracts worth $25 million over 5 years (Soderberg’s contract is worth $23.75 million, which is close enough as a comparable). A 5 year, $25 million dollar contract with a cap hit of $5 million wouldn’t actually be considered too much for what Kadri contributes and if he happens to improve then it will make the contract look even better.

Trading Nazem Kadri

The other option for the Leafs is to trade Kadri’s contract rights either at the NHL Entry Draft or during free agency. It seems unlikely that the Leafs would trade him at this point, but if they did it would be because they don’t see him as part of the team’s core group going forward. There are two scenarios where that’d be the case. If the Leafs get the 1st overall pick and draft Auston Matthews or if they manage to sign Steven Stamkos in the offseason, then there would be a log-jam of players at center. Either of those would create a situation where the Leafs would move William Nylander to the wing or they would feel that Kadri is expendable.

The only other reason the Leafs might not want Kadri as part of the core going forward is because of his attitude problems. Kadri is one of the best players in the league at drawing penalties, which means that he makes the opposing team take penalties against him. This is because Kadri often frustrates the opposing team and gets under their skin. The problem with this is that he has felt the need to embellish or sell the penalty to the referee. This has recently resulted in Kadri getting penalized for diving, which totaled $5,000 in fines for the month of March alone.

The other problem is that Kadri often can’t control his emotions and temper on the ice. This has been an issue with Kadri’s game because he plays a good physical style of hockey, but he won’t truly be effective until he can control his emotions. The most recent example of this is the play that got him suspended for the rest of the season:

The Leafs’ new management group has shown that they don’t have much patience for players with bad attitudes and that don’t fit their standards. Trading Kadri would be a bold move that could bring a good return and help improve the team in the long-run.

With all of that in mind, re-signing Kadri looks like the most beneficial option. The type of contract he would sign is reasonable to comparable players and is a great deal if he continues to improve. Keeping him gives the Leafs plenty of options at center and allows them to shelter William Nylander until he is fully ready for the top line role.

But if the plan is to trade him, then it would be better to wait until next season either at the trade deadline or the offseason. Kadri will likely have a better season next year, which will increase his value and increase the return in a trade. So expect to see Kadri be one of the first players the Leafs sign in the offseason.