5 things: Nazem Kadri’s future


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1. Things are different

When the Leafs swapped out Randy Carlyle/Peter Horachek for Mike Babcock, the most immediately apparent beneficiaries were young, super-talented guys that those coaches seemed, for some reason, to really not like very much at all.

You’ve got your Jake Gardiners and your Morgan Riellys, sure, but the guy who I thought was probably going to take the biggest step forward under the new regime was a fellow called Nazem Kadri. It is rare to see a player get so badly mishandled by a coach, and then be maligned for having been mishandled, in the manner that Kadri was over the final few years of Carlyle’s tenure.

You knew there was relief that Carlyle was gone on Kadri’s part because he said just about everything he could to that effect without actually saying, “I’m glad he’s gone.” Stuff about being glad for a fresh start and all that were common in the immediate wake of the Babcock hire, but Kadri was, like, Out There with that opinion. If you wanted to talk about it, he would be more than happy.

And to this point of the season, you have to say that in some ways, the Babcock era hasn’t been going that great for Kadri. Just one goal and five assists in 16 games as the team stumbles along ineffectively is probably not how the pending RFA looking for a huge payday would have liked the season to start.

However, the amount of room for optimism here is actually massive.

2. Here’s how you know

If you’re listing the names of “Big Nazem Kadri Proponents,” the guy who’s been pretty much at the top of that list in bold, italicized, size-24 font that’s double-underlined and circled a few times is Mike Babcock.

At first maybe you could have said the talk of, “Everything I heard about him before I took this job was clearly wrong,” was just coach-speak. It would be understandable that an incoming coach would praise one of the players who caught the vast majority of the flak (unduly) the last few years, just to kind of signal that the slate has been wiped clean and all that.

But hell if Babcock hasn’t kept it up. He’s praised Kadri to the heavens at just about every opportunity, despite the fact that production like this would have had him mega-deep in Carlyle’s doghouse only a year ago.

Beyond the production (which by the way is a team-wide problem), it’s easy to see why Babcock seems to have fallen in love with what Kadri’s doing. It’s easy to see why.

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So as you can see here, the fact that Kadri is running with just one goal and two assists at 5-on-5 right now has a lot more to do with shooting percentage — 1.96(!!!!!!) percent personally, 5.56 percent while he’s on the ice overall — than the fact that he’s playing poorly. In fact, you can make a safe statement that he’s playing some of the best hockey of his career.

3. There’s a “but”

But, this comes specifically because Babcock is putting him in a position to succeed. Some people would count that against him, of course, but players have no control over how they’re deployed. Moreover, it makes sense that a coach would make sure the players most likely to score are starting in the offensive zone more often than not, simply because that means they’re being utilized to their talents, rather than trying to be square-pegged into the round hole of making the roster fit the coach’s plan rather than the other way around.

Kadri shouldn’t be starting against good competition in his own zone. It isn’t his game. He’s not a two-way center. He’s a scoring center, and he’s scored pretty well even in spite of how Carlyle used him the previous three seasons. I mean, look at the difference here between the first three full seasons of his career, and how Babcock is deploying him 16 games into this one.

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That’s going to have a massive positive impact on a guy’s ability to produce. Except, of course, that Kadri isn’t producing yet. However, all the stuff Babcock is saying about how it’s just a matter of time until he’s filling the net on a regular basis is 100 percent correct.

Kadri’s also getting more time on ice per game (he’s up to nearly a third of the Leafs’ 5-on-5 minutes), so the improved per-60 numbers help his case even more so.

4. How long? Not long

Right now, Kadri has 70 shots on goal in all situations and only one goal. That was one of his 51 shots at full strength, the same number of 5-on-5 shots as Alex Ovechkin, the greatest volume shooter of all time (i.e. he put 15 on net in all situations the other night).

Only one player in the league, Taylor Hall, has more individual shots on goal than that (54). Hall has five goals at full strength, Ovechkin seven. In fact, only one other guy in the current top-20 for 5-on-5 shots on goal put just one past the goalie, and that was Dustin Brown, who I think it’s safe to say has a lower “true shooting talent” than Kadri does.

Meanwhile, he also has 16 shots on the power play — tied for 10th in the league, but with way fewer minutes (about 42:30) than all but one other guy in the top-20 (Kyle Palmieri’s 15 in 39:39) — and no goals to show for it. That also isn’t going to last.

5. What to expect when you’re expecting a goal

Not that he’s necessarily going to score five goals in his next three games or anything like that, but players of Kadri’s skill level don’t shoot with that kind of volume and not-score for this long under any kind of normal conditions. Another player one may fondly recall having 70 SOG over a lengthy period with only one goal to show for it is Tyler Seguin in the Bruins’ doomed run to the Cup Final in 2013 — sorry to bring it up — and I don’t really recall him struggling too much to score after that.

Kadri is going to end up in the same boat. Obviously he’s not Seguin-level great, but even if he had a low shooting talent for his career (and he does not), you’d reasonably expect he’d have somewhere in the neighborhood of four or five goals at full strength by now, just given how much rubber he’s putting on net.

Any day now, that potential energy will be released. And no one’s going to be grinning wider than Babcock.

  • Gary Empey

    It is nice to see the anylitics showing Kadri has the same number of 5-on-5 shots as Alex Ovechkin.

    Rather than using Corsi or Fenwick I use Albert Einstein’s “E = mc squared”(where E is the direction, m is the weight of the puck, and c is the speed of the shot).
    I find Kadri is on a pace to score 5.1 goals this year.

    Ryan, do you think my formula is outdated?

  • Gary Empey

    Unfortunately, Naz has always been miscast. He’s a perfect 2nd line centre.
    Babcock is playing him like a 1st line centre, while Carlyle seemed hellbent on making him a strong 2-way third line centre. He’s neither.

    I agree that he’s had some bad luck, production-wise, this season. When he’s hot, all those posts he’s hitting are just a little further inside and getting him goals. When he’s cold, he’s cold. It’s like that for all offensive guys.

    More importantly he’s helping to dictate the play, which is why Babs loves him so much. But, as Donaldson would say, this is the “get it done” league, not the “try” league. Naz needs to find a way to start producing, or Babcock will start taking reducing his ice-time.

  • Gary Empey

    jeff carter is the most accurate comparison for nazem kadri production and usage wise. an elite #2 scoring centre with a lethal shot. kadri has better creativity and speed but carter is better defensively and on the draw. he could be a lower end #1 centre on a great team (derek stepan and kyle turris comes to mind). one of marner/nylander will be the #1 centre and possibly matthews if we get him. he’ll be an excellent #2 veteran centre by then. he’s easily capable of consistently scoring 60-65 points. just give him the ice time and linemates and he’ll do all the work! i hope we keep him. it would be a major mistake to let him go unless we get a great return.

  • Gary Empey

    it’s hard to compare his zone usage against previous seasons. everyone had way more defensive zone starts in the past because we were always in the defensive zone, period. this year we’ve got much better puck possession and spend much more time in the offensive zone so his change in numbers are exaggerated.

  • CMpuck

    Not a Kadri fan but this is a prime example of Babcock press conference talk about making a safe environment for his players. It’s so the opposite of Wilson which is a delight.

    Love Wilson’s interviews where he’s still blaming the players for his inability coach.

  • jasken

    Got to admire the love for Kadri here even when he is not putting up the greatest production numbers he still praised. 8 goals 21 points in last 64 games registering 162 shots since Carlyle firing and still there is admiration. Anyone else on the team would have been torched not Kadri shear praise.

  • Gary Empey

    Ron Wilson: trashed his young/best players.
    Randy Carlyle: trashed his young/best players.
    Peter Horachek: trashed the whole team (deservedly when they gave up).
    Mike Babcock: praises young/best players even when they’re bad.

    What a world.