The Toronto Maple Leafs Shouldn’t Consider A Nazem Kadri Trade

Nazem Kadri

Of all sources, former NHL pest Sean Avery via his Instagram said “per my sources in Toronto, Nazem Kadri has been traded for Jacob Trouba” which he pronounced: Troub-da.

The report came as a surprise from Avery, and while it has not proven to be true, the premise is one that actually made a lot of sense. The Winnipeg Jets have just delt pending UFA Kevin Hayes to the Philidelphia Flyers and are in need of a second/third-line centre going into 2019-2020. On the other side, The Toronto Maple Leafs need defence as well. They also have cap issues to resolve with impending RFA Mitch Marner set for a big payday sometime over the next couple of months.

That being said, Kadri has a lot of value to the Leafs. He’s been in the organization for a long time and is one of the leaders of a still very young team. This could prove to be even more important if Patrick Marleau is dealt over the summer. Kadri is still only 28 years old and is an important part of the current Leafs roster.

Toronto Maple Leafs Should Hang On To Nazem Kadri

Kadri’s Cap Hit Is Manageable

The theme of the Leafs off-season is going to be managing their cap room. Per Cap Friendly, the Leafs are projected around $8.8 million of cap space to spread around a variety of different places with the biggest fish being Marner. Freeing up more space for Marner is going to be a challenge but it seems unnecessary to exile Kadri in that regard.

Kadri’s contract carries an average annual value of $4.5 million. He is the fifth highest – likely to be the sixth soon – paid forward on the Leafs, fitting him perfectly into his third line role. This puts his cap hit under players like Marleau and William Nylander. Both had fewer points – Nylander (27) and Marleau (37) – last season despite playing the majority of their minutes higher up in the lineup. Nazem Kadri had 44 points as a third-line centre, putting him 62nd among NHL centres. This valuation, in a league where there are four centres on each of 31 teams, would put him squarely where he should be. A high-end third liner or low-end second.

The Leafs are trying to deal away both Marleau and Nikita Zaitsev and if successful, would make up significantly more room. Moving Kadri would clear up a solid amount of space but replacing his value would be very hard. He also has three more seasons as a Leafs before hitting unrestricted free agency. The Leafs have him at his current cap hit until he turns 32.

The Leafs Need Centre Depth

With the Signing of John Tavares last off-season, centre ice became the Leafs strongest position group. This gave them two first-lines, so to speak, and a third-line centre in Kadri who could create mismatches with other teams’ bottom-six units.

The biggest problem is not Nazem Kadri being such a great player he cannot be traded, the problem is the spot he vacates. In 2019, Toronto had problems filling the fourth-line slot and used multiple players to attempt to find a solution. Frederik Gauthier ended up being the most consistent option but he didn’t show much potential to step up onto the third line when needed. Nylander was Kadri’s replacement during the playoffs and didn’t create even an offensive mismatch with the Bruins. He will also likely be playing on a line with Matthews come October. Other failed experiments included Par Lindholm‘s brief stint with the team. Lindholm was dealt at the deadline for another fourth-liner in Nic Petan. Petan only played five games with the Leafs in 2019 but has two years left on his new contract.

Kadri’s versatility in being able to score and play the body is something the current Leafs lack. Mike Babcock has been deprived of a ‘heavy’ player like this anywhere on the ice since James van Riemsdyk walked last off-season. Where getting bigger at centre isn’t a need, staying deep down the middle is. Kadri gives the Leafs, maybe, the best 1-2-3 batting order in the NHL and they don’t have a player who can provide depth scoring, uniqueness, and dependability like him in-house.

Centres Are A Premium in the NHL

Finding a great centre in the NHL isn’t easy. The Leafs know this from struggling through the late 2000s to early 10s without one after Mats Sundin‘s departure. Now in 2019, they have a premium, but one they shouldn’t relinquish.

Examples of centreman similar to Kadri being highly paid are his former-teammate Tyler Bozak, Mikael Backlund, and Bryan Little. All serve similar change of pace roles to Kadri and all are paid $5,000,000 or more per year. However, unlike these other players, he is more comfortable if called upon in a second-line role. Kadri registered 61 and 55 points the two years prior to 2018-19 behind Auston Matthews. Another comparison could be Christian Dvorak. Though he is younger than Kadri, the 23-year-old was awarded a six-year deal with an AAV of $4.45 million. His career high in points in two full and one abbreviated season is 37.

If you look at the playoffs during the 2019 season, one of the familiar patterns is depth at centre ice. Of the four teams that made their respective conference finals, three of the four teams had three good centremen. This isn’t a coincidence as both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have relied heavily on their centremen in their runs to last three Stanley Cups.

The Case For Keeping Nazem Kadri

Though the possibility of trading Kadri is somewhat unlikely, there are very few untouchables at this moment for the Leafs. Kadri plays valuable minutes and as one of the more senior members of the team, needs to be kept around for leadership purposes.¬†With the cap continuing to go up, Kadri’s contract should only get better with age as well. Toronto’s scoring ability is what makes them special and Kadri is a great and consistent contributor.

 

Main Photo: TORONTO, ON РOCTOBER 3: Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs blasts a shot from the point against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on October 3, 2018, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)