Toronto Maple Leafs: Empty Pressure Foisted on Nazem Kadri


Toronto Maple Leafs: Empty Pressure Foisted on Nazem Kadri

The Toronto Maple Leafs have turned all Oz on us: based on some of the recent coverage surrounding Nazem Kadri, one might think he’s on Death Row or something.

Feb 21, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) warms up prior to the game against the Winnipeg Jets at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve been told by head coach Mike Babcock that the expectations for Kadri are high this year (when were they low?); assistant general manager Kyle Dubas has told us that the proverbial ball is now in Kadri’s court; team president Brendan Shanahan expressed his personal disappointment in Kadri’s off-ice behaviour earlier this year; and the normally sensible Chris Johnston has described the up-coming season as a “show me” year for Kadri.

A lot of this is hogwash.

I don’t doubt that Shanahan was disappointed in Kadri, and I don’t doubt that Babcock has high expectations for Kadri, but the young centreman from London, Ontario won’t be going anywhere if he has another uneven season with the Leafs. It just doesn’t make any sense.

For one, the Leafs don’t exactly have a lot of NHL-ready depth at centre. Whatever attitude problems (and let’s be honest, Kadri isn’t exactly a punk) brings to the rink, these problems should be easily manageable when you look at the team’s depth chart. When compared to players like Tyler Bozak, Shawn Matthias and Peter Holland, Kadri is the obvious choice to centre the first line next season. Other players in the system like William Nylander might be close behind him, but there’s no need to rush their development and how they transition to the NHL level is a whole other question.

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  • Based on this fact alone, Kadri is the best internal option at centre that the Leafs have in their lineup today and this’ll likely remain the case for the next two to three seasons.

    Of course, the Leafs could always land a bigger talent through free agency – have you heard the rumours surrounding Steven Stamkos? – but this would actually make Kadri more valuable to the Leafs over the short term, if not the long term as well.

    Is Kadri a true top-line centre? Does he excel at both sides of the game? I’m inclined to answer in the negative (for right now anyway). Necessity, not confidence, will see him lead the Leafs’ top line this coming season, but if he was given the chance to anchor the second line away from all the high expectations, then I think we’d see Kadri at his best. (The real challenge in Toronto is Bozak: where does he fit into everything moving forward?)

    Feb 14, 2015; Montreal, Quebec, CAN;Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) celebrates a goal by right wing Daniel Winnik (not pictured) against Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price (31) during the first period at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

    There’s one other factor that weighs against Kadri leaving Toronto anytime soon: his contract status.

    Kadri will remain a restricted free agent until the summer of 2018. This gives the Leafs considerable control over his immediate future and affords them the chance to take several more “gambles” on him. There’s also the small matter of cost: the Leafs just re-signed Kadri for $4.1 million on a one-year deal. Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (pages 30-31), Kadri can’t earn less than this on his next contract.

    While the Leafs can afford this, it sets a high price for Kadri as a restricted free agent: anyone wanting to “steal” him from the Leafs would have to forfeit a first- and third-round pick in the 2017 draft.

    If Kadri has a good season, he’ll be worth such a steep price, but the Leafs will also be inclined to keep him for the same reason.

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    If Kadri has a bad season, the price becomes too high, leaving his fate in Toronto’s hands.

    In other words, the Leafs have effectively priced Kadri out of the market; they control his future.

    It’s for these reasons that I’m skeptical when people say this may be Kadri’s last season in Toronto. The Leafs have a lot invested in him and there’s no advantage in selling that investment until it has fully matured.

    All the bluster might be meant to motivate Kadri but it’s just that: bluster.

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