I didn’t need to use this picture, but I really, really wanted to.
Unless you missed the 40,000 tweets about it, "The Dream" aka Nazem Kadri has signed a two-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. As fellow awesome TLN writer Cam Charron wrote shortly before this post, Kadri’s contract is very good for the Leafs.
I’m not here to talk about the contract itself. We’ve already touched on that. What I want to talk about is what happens next. Are you ready for it? OK here it is…
Nazem Kadri needs to be really, really good.
I know! Crazy, right?
Did Kadri get the huge payday he wanted? No. It’s starting to look more and more like these bridge deals will be the new norm, and young players like Kadri will have to play lights out during the deal in order to rake in the big bucks.
If Nazem Kadri wants his big payday, here are the three goals he needs to achieve in order to get it.
PROVE LAST SEASON WASN’T A FLUKE
Other than maybe James Reimer’s recovery from concussion, Nazem Kadri might have been the biggest and most-welcomed surprise on the Leafs’ roster last season. He wasn’t even really a lock to make the team out of camp. In fact, the lockout helped Kadri in many ways because he had been playing AHL games while many of his teammates did not. He even started at centre, when the majority of his NHL time prior to last season was spent on the wing.
Making the team was one thing, but becoming the Leafs’ second-leading scorer by season’s end, and the top scorer for most of it, was a bit shocking. Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri were in a class of their own on the Leafs’ roster last season. Kessel scored 52 points while Kadri bagged 44. The only other Leaf to crack 30 was James van Riemsdyk, and he had 32.
The one mind-boggling complaint the Leafs seemed to have about Kadri, and it came up 1,000 times before his contract was signed, was that Kadri had this "big drop-off" in production over the last 19 games. I’m having trouble understanding that, seeing as Kadri had 17 points in the Leafs’ final 19 games. Comparing that to Kadri’s first 19 games of this past season where he scored 15 points, two less than the 17 he scored in the final 19, you begin to wonder what the hell the Leafs meant by "drop-off."
What they were probably referring to was the fact that Kadri was a bit streaky. Despite the 17 points he scored over those final 19 games, he was held pointless in 10 of those contests. In his first 19 games, Kadri scored just 15, but was held pointless just seven times. Based on that, it seems what the Leafs want out of Kadri is more consistency, and that’s what he’ll need to provide to get paid.
STEAL TYLER BOZAK’S JOB AS #1 CENTRE
A big knock on Nazem Kadri’s success last season was that he was scoring against softer competition. With Bozak playing the majority of his ice time with Phil Kessel, and with Mikhail Grabovski still in the mix, Kadri usually found himself playing against the opponent’s second or even third line.
Through the consistency we talked about in the last point, Kadri can become the Leafs’ number one centre. Bozak and Kessel seem to be inseparable, but if they slump, which they do on occasion, Kadri could easily swoop in and take a spot as Kessel’s centre. Even if Bozak and Kessel don’t slump, Kadri can force Randy Carlyle’s hand by being the most productive centre on the team. Once Kadri grabs that spot, if he can, it’s his job to keep it, as well.
One thing working against Kadri is that it’s actually to the Leafs’ benefit that they spread out their offence a bit by having him and Kessel on different lines, but if he’s is good enough, the Leafs will have no choice but to put Kadri on a line with Kessel, the Leafs’ best player.
BECOME A STAR
Kadri wants to get paid. Who doesn’t? Kadri also wants success. Again – who doesn’t? If Kadei wants either of those things, he can’t just be good; he’s got to be great. There are many reasons why the Leafs felt they could buy out Mikhail Grabovski, and I don’t doubt that one of them was their expectation that Kadri can be a star in this league some day soon.
When it’s the last minute of a one-goal game, Kadri needs to be a dependable presence on the ice. When the Leafs need a big goal, Kadri needs to be the one who scores it or sets it up. When the Leafs go to a shootout, Kadri’s got to be the one who gets the nod and tinkles the twine. When it’s Game 7, Kadri’s needs to be the one who scores the 4-1 go- er uh what? That game never happened. What? Shut up.
When the All-Star Game rolls around, Kadri needs to be in the conversation. When the Olympics roll around, even though it’s a tough bunch, Kadri needs to be mentioned. When we talk about who the Leafs’ MVP is, even though Kessel is still in Toronto, Kadri’s name has to come up.
Nazem Kadri scored 44 points in 48 games in 2013. Over the course of an 82-game season, that’s about 75 points. The last Leaf to do that not named Phil Kessel was Mats Sundin, although you could argue Lupul would have hit that in 2011-12 if it weren’t for injury. If Kadri keeps his production from last season, and even improves on it, there no reason to think he can’t get what he deserves.
It’s pretty simple, really. Kadri is in the driver’s seat of what happens next. The Leafs had the excuse of Kadri’s small sample size during this negotiation, but if he keeps being The Dream, they won’t have that excuse next time.