Toronto Maple Leafs: What Does the Future Hold For Nazem Kadri?

Jan 21, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) takes a shot against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 21, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) takes a shot against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Both the head coach and GM have given their praise for the way Nazem Kadri has conducted himself this season, but has it been enough to earn him a long-term contract extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Nazem Kadri has had a tough time making his mark with the Toronto Maple Leafs. When Brian Burke drafted him 2009, it was clear that they wanted to move up to get John Tavares at number one, but the New York Islanders would not budge.

This put immense pressure on Kadri to be the player to lead the franchise. So far it has been a struggle for him to live up to the hype.

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Other than players like Evander Kane and Brayden Schenn who were selected before Kadri and traded away by the team that drafted them, the 2009 draft could have presented the Leafs a great opportunity to get a more impactful player. Former GM Brian burke mentioned after selecting Kadri that he could have made a deal to move up, but that it would cost them Luke Schenn to get it done.

Imagine if the Leafs could have traded up to draft a player like Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene, or Oliver Ekman-Larsson? They have been cornerstone players so far and yet the Leafs are still waiting for Kadri to prove he is capable of doing the same thing.

It is easy to say now that the Leafs should have made an attempt to move up, even if it meant giving up Schenn and Kadri. However, they should have had a important role with the Leafs, but the team did not manage that properly.

Looking at how Kadri has played this season, there has been improvement in his game. However, has it been good enough to justify a long-term contract extension?

Judging by Lou Lamoriello’s praise of Kadri’s play this season, it looks like the team could be willing give him an extension, but there is no certainty of that. There are a lot of factors that management will consider when they start contract negotiations with Kadri, which could work in their favour.

Still an RFA

This would have been a tougher decision for Leafs management to make if Kadri was an unrestricted free agent (UFA), because it would mean having to decide at the trade deadline whether they want to keep him or not. Despite the praise from Lamoriello and Babcock, it does not guarantee his contract becomes a top priority  in the offseason, because the draft and free agency will be the priority.

There is also Morgan Rielly‘s contract which the Leafs will have to get done in the offseason and while Kadri plays an important role on the team, so does his teammate. However, with both players being RFAs, it will not have a major effect on what the Leafs want to accomplish moving forward.

Has Defined His Role on the Team

There has always been the debate about whether Kadri is a number one centre in the NHL, especially when Tyler Bozak was playing on the top line with Phil Kessel. Many felt Kadri should have occupied that role, because he was viewed as the more skilled player.

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Now Kadri is working on being a more complete player, which has paid dividends for him, especially under Babcock. Sure the offensive numbers are not where he wants them to be, but his contributions to the team go past that.

He has been way better at faceoffs, which was not a strong part of his game, he is earning more ice-time, has been more physical consistently and is a top 10 possession player on the team.  The fact he has shown this improvement while matching up against the top lines of the opposition is impressive, considering how Randy Carlyle used to try to avoid that with Kadri.

Babcock has not been afraid to play Kadri’s line with the oppositions best player, which shows how confident the coach is in his ability. Minus the game against the San Jose Sharks, Kadri did a good matching the tough physical play of the Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings.

Going up against Anze Kopitar and Ryan Getzlaf is no easy task, and Kadri made sure that his presence was felt. Once he can improve on his shooting percentage, he should be able to establish himself as a clear number two centre.

Has Made Players Around Him better

Once thing  Babcock did in Detroit that he continues to do in Toronto, is have a player who usually plays on a third line and puts them with a more skilled player. One player that has benefited from this has been Leo Komarov, who plays on a line with Kadri.

While Kadri struggled to score goals and put up points at the start of the season, Komarov was off to one of the best starts of his career. Is playing with Kadri the reason Komarov has been better this season?

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Jan 6, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) is congratulated by teammates after a goal in the second period against the Anaheim Ducks during an NHL game at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

It probably has something to do Komarov receiving powerplay time and more ice-time, but there is no ignoring the fact that playing with a skilled player like Kadri explains his offensive outburst. When Michael Grabner was struggling to produce offensively in a lesser role, Babcock put him on Kadri’s line and it triggered an offensive outburst with five goals and two assists, for seven points in 12 games.

Kadri and Komarov are not the fastest skaters, so having Grabner on their line brought that missing element and some success for each player. It helps that Kadri has improved on his faceoff numbers and possession numbers, because of the effect it has on his teammates.

The Kadri line rarely gets pinned in their own zone and they try to force takeaways, which help drive possession. If Kadri can continue to have a positive impact on his linemates play, it will make the decision to offer a new contract much easier.

Better Attitude Towards the Babcock Plan

Kadri has not had it easy in his time in Toronto, and last season Brendan Shanahan made a decision that may have helped turn his game around. While the Leafs went through a tough period last season, Kadri was showing signs of frustration.

Iit got to the point where he was missing practice and team meetings, which lead to a team suspension. Shanahan addressed the situation with the media and it was clear he was not going to let things with Kadri get out of control.

"“This is a moment,” Shanahan said, “when a player has to look in the mirror and make some decisions.”"

It did not help when former Leafs coach Ron Wilson gave his opinion on Kadri: “I never felt that Nazem ever listened to me. If we had drawn a hard-line with him and sent him down to the minors and made an example of him early on in his career, he might not be doing these things now. He might have been reformed.”

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Jan 19, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) and Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier (14) face-off during the first period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

Former Toronto Marlies Dallas Eakins recalled a conversation he had with Kadri when he was in the AHL and that he threatened to involve his father in order to ensure he did not deviate from the plan they put in place for his development. In a way it showed Kadri’s immaturity, because to think that using a parent to get through to a hockey players is something only coaches in younger levels would try to do.

Carlyle tried to take a different approach with Kadri, especially last season when he felt his game was starting to come together. However, just like this year, Kadri has been able to show improvements in his defensive game, although the offensive numbers have not been too kind to him.

David Alter wrote about Kadri’s success under Babcock earlier this month . He points out  that Babcock has been pleased with the way that Kadri has been able to go up against the best players in the league:

"Babcock does not evaluate Kadri’s success in points, but more  in the his ability to back-check when he does not  have the puck, and his drive to the net when he does have it. In fact, going to the net and creating consistent pressure in the offensive zone is the biggest mark of success under Babcock."

Hopefully Kadri can continue to show why he is worthy of Babcock and Lamoriello’s praise, but personal feelings do not dictate how contract negotiations work. In the end it is a business and the Leafs are at a critical point where making the wrong long-term investments can do a lot of harm.

So it is important Kadri remembers that when it is time to negotiate a new deal. He should also remember his future with the Leafs is not guaranteed and all he can do is play well, because that is all he can control at the moment.

There is a good chance Kadri gets traded by management with his value rising, but it is much tougher to trade away young players. Seeing Kadri buy into the Babcock system shows the Leafs may yet be able to salvage his career in Toronto.

However, unless Kadri can improve on his offensive numbers it will become tough to justify giving him a raise and for long term. Only certain player in the NHL receive those deals and Kadri has not shown he deserves it right now.

Next: What should the Leafs do with James Reimer?

What are your thoughts on Nazem Kadri’s play this season? What do you think the Leafs should do with him? Let us know in the comments section below.