Toronto Maple Leafs: Why Nazem Kadri Will Become the Number One Centre


Toronto Maple Leafs must consider replacing Tyler Bozak with Nazem Kadri on the first line

As the 2014-2015 season approaches, many articles are being written to guess at how the Leafs’ line combinations will shake out. Will Kyle Dubas and his new staff push for changes to the lineup based on advanced stats? The video suggests they might.

Due to the off-season signings of forwards Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli, Leo Komarov, and David Boothbroken down in depth here, spectators have debated which skaters will occupy the Leafs’ bottom six.

However, the most interesting lineup decision of all may come at the top.

The Case for Nazem Kadri as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ First-Line Centre

Let’s start backwards.

If Kadri is going to slide up the depth chart, Bozak will have to slide down. Is there any reason to move Phil Kessel‘s running mate off of the first line?

Yes. There are plenty of reasons.

1. Kessel helps Bozak but Bozak doesn’t return the favour.

First, Kessel’s play is not improved by skating with Tyler Bozak.

WOWY analysis, the study of how players impact each other when on the ice together, reveals that Kessel’s Corsi, goals for%, and goals per 20 minutes are no different whether he skates with Bozak or not. The number of shots, shot attempts, goals, and more stay the same.

That’s interesting.

Conversely, Bozak’s numbers drop significantly when he plays without Kessel.

David Johnson at (the site working to replace argues that these WOWY figures show Bozak needs Kessel to be effective. Meanwhile, Kessel would be just fine playing with another centreman. Bozak barely impacts his play at all.

This begs the question…could anyone else fill Bozak’s role instead?

Mar 16, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center

Nazem Kadri

(43) skates in warm-ups prior to the game against Washington Capitals at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sports

2. Kadri has better possession stats

That’s where Nazem Kadri comes in.

When playing together, Kadri and Kessel both enjoy an increase in their Corsi possession stats. This isn’t much of a surprise. Kadri was second on the team in Corsi last season, positing a +3.7% CorsiRel.

The WOWY and Corsi stats make a good case to replace Bozak with Kadri on their own. But, are there any other reasons to consider this switch?

3. Kadri has greater fire, upside, and youth

Kadri has been clear about his wish to centre the top line for the Toronto Maple Leafs. But it doesn’t stop with this fire and drive.

Noted for his great offensive instincts, flair, and soft hands, Nazem Kadri has seen his production gradually increase (shots and points) without receiving more ice time (between 16 and 17 minutes per game over the past three seasons). Not bad for the 23 year-old.

Meanwhile, 28 year-old Tyler Bozak has plateaued.

Noted for his good skating and two-way play, never scoring more than 19 goals or reaching 50 points in his 5 years with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Though a highly useful player, this isn’t the description or stat-line of a number one NHL centre.

May 13, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) abd Toronto Maple Leafs right wing

Phil Kessel

(81) celebrate a goal during the third period in game seven of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

In conclusion…

Standard scoring stats and advanced stats agree on this point. Kessel plays a little better with the developing Kadri while Bozak would be well-suited as a defensive conscious on a line that is lower on the Toronto Maple Leafs depth chart.

While Kadri and Bozak are both key, useful players for the Leafs, their skill sets and relationships with Kessel demand that Nazem Kadri finally become the number one centre for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

What do you think, Leafs fans? Should the Toronto Maple Leafs consider moving Kadri up the depth chart?