Nazem Kadri is a polarizing figure in the Toronto hockey community. The 2009 first round pick has gone from having “future of the Leafs” pressures being placed on him and his similarly aged peers, to a mid-twenties player at a bit of a crossroads. With the 25-year-old hitting his last round of Restricted Free Agency this summer, many are wondering what the best course of action is with him moving forward.
TSN’s panel had the “trade him or sign him” conversation yesterday, and while Bob McKenzie and Jeff O’Neill believed that he was a player the team should invest in, Craig Button wasn’t as sure. “While he’s talented,” Button said, “He doesn’t have the productivity needed to be a number two centre”.
A quick look at Kadri’s numbers gives some credence to this, in the sense that he is coming up on seven years since his draft day and has a single-season career high of 20 goals and 50 points. Many expected more out of him, and while a late-season push could bring him there again, it still won’t be the same pace that he gave a glimmer of in the lockout-shortened 2012/13 season.
|Points||35 (T-54th)||39 (T-53rd)||50 (T-34th)||44 (T-12th)|
Now, before we go into much further detail, it is worth pointing out that if we were to use the most rudimentary way of determining if Nazem Kadri is productive enough to be a number two centre, he fits the bill. He’s been in the top 60 among NHL centres in raw points in all four full seasons that he’s played, which by definition would average him out to be a second line centre. But it’s obviously not that simple; certain players miss games or play different types of minutes. But what if there was a way to get rid of some of the noise?
Rate statistics are probably the most straightforward of the many “advanced” statistics out there. Simply put, you’re trying to see how often a player does a statistically noticeable thing in a period of time. “Points-per-game”, for example, has been in the hockey fan vernacular for years, as it adjusts for players who miss time.
But points per game just scratches the surface on normalizing the playing field. After all, a player who plays 20 minutes has more opportunity to score than one who plays ten. So you divide their points by their ice time, rather than their games played. Frequently, you’ll see the division come on a per-60 minute basis, simply because that’s the standard length of a hockey game.
It’s also best to take into account the player’s situation when they’re on the ice. Somebody who spends their time on the penalty kill isn’t going to bury too many pucks, whereas a powerplay specialist will clean up. When talking about the viability of a player’s performance, you’ll usually see 5 on 5 numbers used.
How Kadri Performs In This Context
|Season(s)||Goals/60||Assists/60||Points/60||Shots on Goal/60||Penalties Drawn/60|
Suddenly, a player who has averaged 17:04 per night over the course of his career looks a little bit better. While Kadri is in the midst of a down year, his last four years have placed him 95th of 513th amongst all forwards in rate of point production (1.84 pts/60), and 58th of 140 when put against forwards who have played at least 3000 minutes in that span. Of that last sample, Kadri also benefits from looks in primary points; ranking 41st if secondary assists are removed from the equation. As well, Kadri is, without question, the best penalty drawer in the league; he’s about to lead the league in penalty drawn rate for the fourth time in his career.
Sticking to points, though, Kadri keeps good company. Players like Nicklas Backstrom, Pavel Datsyuk (1.86), Claude Giroux (1.79), and Ryan Johansen (1.74) are all considered bonafide number-one centremen, let alone second line centres.
Rate-based numbers are best suited to larger samples, simply because a goal, or a shot, or an assist can make such an impact if your minutes played are fewer. This means that Kadri’s solid long-term numbers are bookmarked by two polar opposite years, this year and 2012/13.
In the latter season, everything was going right for the young man. He was shooting at 12.5%, well above his career average. Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin, his linemates, were doing the same, leading to the team shooting at nearly 15% with Kadri on the ice; nearly double the league’s norm. Because of that, his numbers skyrocketed, giving him an obscene 3.18 points/60, which only trailed behind Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, and Jonathan Toews.
This year has been the opposite. If that year was Kadri’s coming out party in terms of attention and raw numbers, this is the one where he’s shown himself off as a two-way player. The advent of Mike Babcock’s carry-oriented, cycle-driven, pucks-to-the-net heavy system has led to a player who is generating opportunity as part of the system, rather than in spite of it, leading to better control of the puck at the team level and fewer dangerous opportunities heading the other way.
But his puck luck hasn’t gone the same way. Despite taking more shots than ever before (leading the team in that regard), many from even closer, more threatening areas, he’s running at a career-low 5.3% shooting percentage at even strength. His teammates have been just as bad (spending lots of time with Michael Grabner doesn’t hep), rolling at 6.26% when on the ice with him. Shots aren’t turning into goals, passes aren’t turning into assists, and Kadri’s 1.31 points per 60 is out of top-six forward range.
Realistically, though, the real Kadri is likely somewhere in between the two, in that 1.65-1.75 point range that he occupied in between 2013/14 and 2014/15. This would put him in the top 90-120 range, which places him, if nothing else, is in the upper half of second line forwards.
Where Does That Put Him?
Ultimately, I’m not here today to tell you what Nazem Kadri is worth, or that he’s a great player. I personally feel that he’s worth locking up long-term and that he’s an effective play driver and elite powerplay-generator.
Certainly, there are many more talking points that people will want to discuss regarding his game; his occasional moments of distraction, his questionable hit selection, his play in the defensive zone, and, while you risk getting into unsubstantiation, his decisions off the ice will likely be something that people break down. I’m sure that we’re nowhere close to the end of the tunnel when it comes to the debate regarding him.
But when discussing a player’s productivity, there’s a lot more to it than how many points they end up with at the end of the year, and it’s not hard to make it into something that paints a better picture. It just so happens that Nazem Kadri is a great example of a player who does better at producing points than the raw numbers show.