Apr 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Calgary Flames forward Sean Monahan (23) takes down Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) during the first period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs: A Setback Season for Nazem Kadri?

Last week I talked about the new expectations placed on Nazem Kadri by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there’s a counter-argument I didn’t fully consider that says he’s not ready for this role based on last season’s performance.

Here’s the basic argument:

It’s no secret Nazem Kadri remains a bit of an enigma in Leafs Nation.

We know he has a ton of talent and we’ve even seen it on occasion, but we also know these brief moments of brilliance are often followed by a stretch of poor play – a stretch that can last for one period or several games. As a result, his exact place in the future plans of the Toronto Maple Leafs remains unclear.

Mar 3, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) cannot control a puck against Columbus Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky (17) during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Leafs could show some patience and hang onto Kadri, hoping he continues to develop in the right direction, or they could trade him now in the hope of capitalizing on his long-touted “potential” while he’s still young and attractive to other teams.

To date, Kadri had his strongest season during the shortened 2012-2013 campaign. He recorded a total of 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 48 games, putting him within the exclusive realm of point-per-game status. As well, Kadri finished a very healthy +15.

This past season he registered 50 points (20 goals, 30 assists) in 78 games. Although this represents a notable drop in his overall performance, the numbers are still very respectable for a 23-year-old centerman in the NHL and especially for someone who spent a good part of his time playing on the third line.

Having said this, Kadri’s performance really declined in the defensive side of the game. He finished -11, which represents an alarming drop of +26 in comparison to last season. These aren’t Alexander Ovechkin numbers (-35), but they warrant some concern for someone who supposedly represents a big piece of the Leafs’ future down the middle.

Of course, the merits of +/- as a useful statistic can be debated and that’s not the intention of this post. A more telling sign of Kadri’s defensive liability can be seen in his faceoff success rate. Kadri won only 45.2% of the draws he took, which were normally favourable matchups. This forced the Leafs to call upon the services of fellow centerman Tyler Bozak (48.7%) whenever caught in their own end.

(In other words, Kadri ranked 173 out of 255 among all centers at taking draws last season – a situation that saw him take few faceoffs in the defensive end.)

Toronto controls Kadri’s fate for the immediate future. They have him under contract for next season before he hits free agency as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2016.

Based on this fact alone, the Leafs are likely to keep Kadri around for next season. If he continues to develop in the right direction, a contract extension will probably find its way to him. However, if it appears his development has actually stalled or regressed in any significant way, he could be quickly moved at the trade deadline with little trouble.

For the Leafs, this is an enviable position – it’s basically win-win for them – but it puts a lot of pressure on Kadri to perform. To put it differently, I don’t envy his position.

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Tags: Nazem Kadri Toronto Maple Leafs

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