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What’s the next move with Nazem Kadri?



We all know, on the surface at least, the “story” with Nazem Kadri since he was drafted by the Maple Leaf organization in the summer of 2009.  The talented young forward has made his way into the Leaf line-up on different occasions, only to be returned to the Marlies because of roster limitations, a lack of production, need for further development or injury. 

Until recently, I haven’t at all liked how the Leafs have handled his situation, but I won’t go into all the specifics that I’ve outlined in the past yet again.  Suffice to say I had hoped he would spend all of last season with the Marlies, so he would be best prepared to make a run for a spot with the big club and stay here this season.

He has been bounced around like a yo-yo, and my strong preference would have been that once he finally earned the call-up, he would be here for good.  That hasn't happened.

In any event, he thrived offensively with the Marlies through most of this season, and has shown glimpses (as he also did at times last season, I must say) of being more physical and better all-around in his defensive play when he has played with the big club as well.

I’m glad that Kadri spent prolonged time down on the farm and has has shined for most of the season at that level.  And I’m hoping that, with this latest recall, he will indeed never have to go back to the Marlies.
(One only partly-related thought:  I wonder how Leaf fans would assess Kadri's play if they just saw him in action for the first time, without knowing he was a high first-round draft choice?  I'd love to hear your opinions...)

I still have to wonder, however, if he remains one of the “chips” that Burke has that could help him to acquire something more to his liking when it comes to bulking up on the forward lines—either in terms of size, elite skill or grit—come the stretch drive and (hopefully, for Leaf fans) a playoff push.  And I do not say that simply because he was a "healthy scratch" against the Senators on Tuesday night.  (I would have thought Kadri, if he played well, would have been useful against the Sens, but the brass clearly felt a bit more thunder and lightning was needed, thus the decision to go with Rosehill...)

Kadri, at 21, is young enough and has shown enough sizzle that many teams would no doubt like to get their hands on a young man with his apparent potential, just as the Leafs did a year ago with Jake Gardiner and Joe Colborne via separate trades.  Of course, the best course of action, it is often said, is the trade “you don’t make”, so Burke is no doubt contemplating that avenue (i.e. keeping Kadri in the fold) as well.

(Quick aside: for me, Burke's public comments and protestations mean little.  He will do what he believes he needs to do to improve the team now and for the future, and that's his job- regardless of any public suggestions about who's "not going anywhere".)

Here is the present reality: despite the many changes Burke has already made to this roster and the obvious improvement we have witnessed over the past three plus years, more needs to be done—if the Leafs really hope to make big progress sooner than later.  And if we realize that, so does Burke.  And he’s the one that can do something about it.

While it was a bit of a surprise that he acquired and then dealt Kris Versteeg last season (we generally think of Burke liking “his own” guys), that would suggest Kadri, despite being a Burke draft selection, is not necessarily ensured of a permanent place in Toronto in the future, either.  I’ve just had a nagging sense that for all the positive things that have been said about him since the day he was drafted, the brass is not in one hundred per cent agreement that he is a big part of the future here. 

Yet, while the roster is deeper, it is not so filled with high-end talent that they will be giving guys away.  So we know that in any transaction they do make, they will be reluctant to give away talent or youth.

But to get something, you generally have to give up something, though Burke has engineered a couple of rather remarkable deals in his time in Toronto—moves that cost the team either nothing off the roster, or players who no longer fit here, anyway.

I think they have a decision to make.  They can keep getting incrementally better, bit by bit, now already into the fourth year of Burke’s re-construction.  (So much for, as I've said here many times, Burke's earlier-stated impatience with a "five-year re-build".)  Or they can make another dynamic move to get better more quickly, with an eye toward being serious contenders in 2012-’13, rather than a year or two later than that.

Yes, the Leafs have some nice young talent that will mature even more over the next two years, no question.  The defense is young and while flawed, there is a fairly strong core there, as we have discussed here in the past.  But Burke is not trading Phaneuf and he’s not moving Gardiner.  Who is “touchable”, if anyone, in an effort to get better up front?  Schenn?  Gunnarsson?

Likely neither, but if I had to pick one, I’m thinking they would move Gunnarsson, though I personally would not, as I’ve posted here before.

So what do they have to deal, who may bring something in return, a trade-able asset who is not on the roster right now?

Kadri.

Many of us believe his name has been on the table many times over the past year or so.  The Leafs would never acknowledge that, of course, and they may not even be "offering" him.  But he is a piece I believe they would move, if they felt they could get better right now.

This may be a February deal, with a team that is out of the playoff picture who has a veteran that still has two or three years left and can be an impact player next season—when Toronto should be that much closer to contention in the wide open Eastern Conference.

For me, Kadri’s is the name that keeps bubbling up to the surface.  If not him, who?


21 comments:

  1. I feel the same way about Kadri, a guy that is most likely to be a piece of getting a significant deal done, if one is to be made.

    All your criticisms about the Kadri experiment are shared by myself. PPP has a good series or collection (not sure of the correct word) featuring the Top 25 under 25 for the Leafs the last couple weeks. Something that stuck out to me was in the Holzer (#15) featurette: "Holzer has been an invaluable contributor to the Leafs organization this season; taking on key roles and being relied upon as a #1 defeceman in the AHL..." "...finds himself occupying the dreaded "tweener" role; caught between two where he seems to be too good to remain in the AHL, but at the same time he hasn't yet established himself as an NHL player yet."

    I'm not sure why Leafs brass didn't take this approach when they had the opportunity and just left him in the AHL for the whole season last year.

    No one has ever been set back by receiving the full AHL treatment. Not to mention the Marlies are coached by Dallas Eakins who seems to be considered one of the best player development coaches in the AHL currently. Not only does he take the time to coach on a one-to-one level with his individuals on their roles and skill sets, he holds accountability and make everyone earn what they have.

    The Leafs are driven to win. The Marlies are driven to develop. Its just the mentality of the leagues - ratings and winning vs development.

    Holzer seems stuck behind a deep roster, whereas Kadri seems stuck behind his own (lack of consistent) abilities.

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  2. My post was in no way a slight to Kadri and his ability. I feel the process is something like this:

    In the AHL you learn to play against stronger, bigger, and better players under structured systems. You player a bigger schedule, more accustomed to the NHL and a little less like the NCAA, High School, WHL, OHL, or any other league you may have come from.

    You often have teams throughout the AHL littered by NHL journeymen who have valued experience playing in the NHL and some who have been playing professional (AHL, NHL) since these green horns were still finishing up grade school. In the AHL you learn how to become an NHL player.

    Your next step should be the NHL, whether it be after 1 year or 5 years of development. Depending on your natural abilities depends on where exactly you sit once you graduate, most should be on a 3rd line. You have spent X amount of year(s) in the AHL learning how to get to the NHL - PP, PK, two-way play, back checking, etc and you now put them to use. Now in this new 3rd line row, you learn how to STAY in the NHL and excel in the game. You play the lower lines, watch the better players and experience the atmosphere of the NHL everyday. How they practice, what to eat, how to work out on and off the ice, and routines.

    Now assuming you now have your AHL experience and building upon it with your NHL experience, and depending on your natural skill and status within the organization you graduate again. You become a 1st and 2nd line player because you not only know what it takes to make the NHL, how to stay in the NHL, but you now excel.

    Or at least thats how the Datsyuk and Zetterberg's do it anyways. And we see the next wave of Filppula, Helm, Abdelkader, and Emerton within the process now.

    Thats just my prospective as a fan of the game.

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  3. Both posts are excellent and give context for your views, Skill2Envy. Like you, I recognize there are always going to be players who skip the minor-league step, but most guys benefit from all the things you mention. I've long felt the Leafs, for the many good things they have done in recent years, have not handled the Kadri situation as well as they could have. I may be proven wrong. I guess we'll see.

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  4. Michael you were looking for an opinion from someone who was unaware of Kadri and was seeing him for the first time. While I am aware of the hype surrounding him and his acquisition, the only games I have seen him play are the ones with the Leafs so perhaps my comments on his performance which compare my expectations with my observation of him at the NHL level would be of interest.

    My observation is that he has good speed and imagination and can make a good pass. I haven't seen him shoot enough to know if he is a "sniper". His "individual" play could be described as skilled or talented. However, he has looked lost to me when trying to play as a member of the team. He just seems out of sync somehow with those around him. In some cases that may be the fault of who he is out there with but I think a large portion of the blame has to be his. I can't honestly say I have been impressed with him so far.

    I would say he seems to have the skills to be a player in the NHL and that he has promise. I thought the post by Skills2Envy was a very good one and articulated well the value of the AHL experience.It appears to me that Kadri could really benefit from that.

    However, if he is to be used as trade bait for a useful addition to the Leafs, I have no problem with that. At this point in time, I don't see him becoming a franchise player because I haven't yet seen him display that type of promise or skill.

    I may be wrong in that but I guess I would have expected more improvement in his play at the NHL level by now based on how well he was reportedly playing for the Marlies and the "can't miss" hype when he arrived on the scene.
    I'll be interested to read other readers opinions on his progress and potential.

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  5. I feel that the Leaf’s management has made great strides in a number of areas, one of them being player development. My sense is that demotions and promotions are not as dramatic for the players as they have been in the past. The reasons for this have to do with the fact that the demotion or promotion does not involve moving thousands of miles. The only relocation required is to a different home rink. Consequently, there is less disruption on the home front. Was it JFJ who got the ball rolling on having the farm in Toronto? From all accounts, the Marlies’ coaching staff is high quality, and the various aspects of the game are integrated with the Leafs, from playing systems to nutrition habits. Also, I understand that the players have someone to talk to in Bobby Carpenter, at least in the early stages of development, who can guide them through the process of development from a player’s perspective.

    Overall, my sense is that promotions and demotions are less disruptive than they have been in the past, albeit a huge material difference for players on two way contracts. Jake Gardiner did not appear to lose a beat with his demotion and Kadri looked to be a much better player after promotion. Maybe someone can correct me if my perception is wrong, but my sense is that management has tried to make the process more seamless, so that the yo-yo effect is not as hard on the players as it might have been in years past. Finally, I also have a greater sense of meritocracy. While these things are never entirely fair, I am less of concerned about the major transgressions of the past such as in irrationally burying Nathan Dempsey in the minors.

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  6. First let me compliment you on VLM. In these days of sound bites, tweets and superficial reporting it is extremely refreshing to read thoughtful in depth analysis of a subject.

    In keeping with the vintage theme, allow me to bring up a name from the past who somewhat parallels the Kadri situation. Eric Nesterenko played his first game with the OHL junior A Toronto Marlboros at the age of 16. He scored 53 goals in 52 games when he was 18 while also playing one game for the leafs. Needless to say, the hype was overwhelming. He was even given a morning radio show on CKFH. My recollections of that were of an extremely nervous voice which had trouble putting a sentence together.

    Eric played a half season for the Leafs (1952-53) at age 19 and scored a promising 10 goals. The next 2 seasons he scored 14 and 15 goals. He was sold to Chicago during the 1955-56 season after scoring 4 goals in 40 games. He went on to have a 16 year journeyman-like career with Chicago, scoring 20 goals in a season only once. I can't help but believe that a year in the minors might have helped him tremendously.

    Sometimes we forget how young and inexperienced these prospects are. Time in the minors has noticeably improved Kadri's game. I believe he will develop into a very good NHL player. I only hope we have the patience to stick with him during his development.

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  7. perhaps kadri will be dangled by burke as a player who can be acquired IF other dead-weight players are packaged together. kadri's potential is very high, but as you've written time and again, the leafs haven't 'raised him' properly.

    as an aside, living in buffalo, i am hearing day in/out cries of desperation to trade the underperforming/dead-weight players (roy, stafford, leino, boyes, etc etc)... talk about buy high sell low. nooooo one wants these guys.

    the problem (although not as dire) with the leafs is similar to the sabres... the leafs have players who we'd perhaps like to see leave the organization, but who out there wants these players?

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  8. Having the AHL play in Toronto as well was a smart move. It certainly helps the club and players when bodies are moved.

    I could be wrong, but I assume most people here aren't concerned with the travel, adjustment etc when it comes to a player coming up and going down. I think the concern is the mental fatigue it has on players. In Kadri's case he played two outstanding pre-seasons where he "wasn't good enough" come opening night. Then they are told, and we've seen it, they are playing well in the AHL and are called-up - either to give the line-up a shake or replace an injured. They are good enough for their couple games or few weeks but then they aren't good enough anymore and sent down. And the trend has continued for 3 years now.

    Now I know I won't get the quote correct but I'm certainly not far off "Kadri is expected to dominate and be a 100-point player with the Marlies". Expected means you have expectations, expectations are set goals. Kadri never reached this goal or came close, in fact, MLSE has set many goals for Kadri and he has graduated, briefly, without completing them. He has only really improved on his physicality and team play. Sure the turn overs have been reduced (they couldn't have possibly gotten worse) but that is something that is NHL quality expected.

    If Burke & co. want to send a message they need to keep him down until he is ready and only invite him up if injuries occur. Consistent on what they expect. He shouldn't be expected to turn the Leafs around when slumping or add spark, guys like Crabb, Boyce, and Rosehill can handle that.

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  9. Thanks Ed. You captured exactly what I was looking for: as best one can, an "objective" one step back assessment of how Kadri has played in his time with the Leafs- without the complications of where he was drafted and the resultant hype.

    Bobby C...well said as always. Where we may differ slightly here is, I'm not sure Kadri is, for me at least, an example of the Leafs using the farm system properly. But I've made my point on Kadri here before so I won't belabour it now.

    I do agree on the question of "meritocracy". As you well said, though, personnel decisions are not necessarily "fair". They are sometimes based on money/contracts, ego, politics, what a certain guy sitting would do to team team chemistry/disruption, etc.

    Pete Cam- First, thank you for your supportive words. I appreciate your thoughts very much.

    You make an excellent point about Nesterenko. I was too young to appreciate Netserenko's time in Toronto. He was a Blackhawk by the time I was a fan in the late 1950s. I was unaware of his radio show, etc. Amazing that so much was put on the young man. Just shows, I guess, that as much as the world of celebrity (and expectations) has changed, it has always been this way.

    As for his hockey career, indeed, time in the minors would surely have honed his game. He had a nice, and long career, including that Cup with Chicago in 1961.

    There have been too many players (and way too many Leafs) who have been rushed into their NHL careers prematurely. Jack Valiquette springs to mind from the early-mid '70s.

    I agree with you, patience is so important, and it's hard for fans- and probably for management, too, who have the pressure to "win now"...

    Alec C...You raise a point that we all kind of know is true but don't always want to accept: the players we, as fans, often talk about trading are well known to NHL GM's. Oh sure, there will be trades, like the Phaneuf deal, where for reasons we will never know, the other side took a package of players that just weren't that marketable to get rid of a "star" player who was an issue in their dressing room. It happens. But by and large, you won't get a Getzlaf for two third-line players and a second round pick. And I agree, the Sabres are caught in no-man's land, because they have a team full of guys, it sounds like, that they don't like anymore- and no one else wants, either...

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  10. Well said, Skill2Envy. I agree with you and previous posts that having the Marlies nearby makes sense( though it was devastating for the fans in St. John's and not entirely fair, in my view, but that's a different debate...)

    They made, in my view, a significant error a year ago when they panicked and brought Kadri up when the team was struggling to score goals. They wanted a 20-year old to be the difference-maker? C'mon. This is one of the reasons I'm not as convinced as many are that the Leaf brass (though they are all good hockey people and very experienced) is one step ahead all the time...

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  11. I agree with Ed. Kadri has never seemed in sync with his linemates. Creative, yes. Better defensively now, yes. But, somehow, not integrated with the team. Like MacArthur, he often seems to overhandle the puck, or overthink the play. I wouldn't hesitate to trade him. We don't need another smallish skill player with potential.

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  12. I think we are beeing a little too soft here.

    This is Vintage Leaf Memories and in the old days, a youngster often had to earn a spot on the team by taking one from a hardened veteran. That's how you proved that you were ready for the big show...otherwise you stayed in the AHL.

    I like Kadri (much of the time he looks like an NHLer) but in my mind Kadri hasn't quite taken a spot from a veteran NHL player.

    However I think he could be getting close to taking Lombardi's spot as they are both smaller, skilled players and Lombardi's numbers aren't that great because of the injuries.

    If Kadri plays better, he can make Lombardi expendable. Lombardi could be moved to a team that needs a speedy skilled forward for a draft choice or part of a larger three-way deal to get the Leafs some more size.

    So what's it going to be Nazem... are you man enough to take somebody's job?

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  13. Thanks Gerund O'...as you can see from the comments here, you are not alone.

    DP...I have no difficulty with a bit of "tough love" for Kadri or any other young player- handled the proper way. One thing I would say is that I hope if the brass is serious about Kadri's long-term development, and they want him to "prove" he is a top-six forward, they need to give him an extended look in that situation at some point soon. Not a game or two and if he makes mistakes while trying to impress, back to the bench or the Marlies.

    At this point he has heard every day what they want, need and expect from him. He knows. So now, yes, he has to produce, though he is only 21 and in his second year as a pro. But the team should be straight too. If they really have no intention of trading him, tell him so (maybe they have, but do they mean it?) and then prove it by letting him play real minutes the rest of this season.

    Others have said here and elsewhere, and perhaps fairly so, that other players have earned their top-six time. And I understand that. But I'm not honestly sure there are six offensively-gifted players who have shown they deserve big minutes this season.

    That all said, I always use Lanny McDonald as one of my demarcation points. It took him into his third year, as a high-first round pick in this market, to gain confidence and really start to fly, after injuries and some fits and starts. And he was not drafted until he was 20. There is still time for Kadri.

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  14. Kadri has shown great poise with the puck at times. Circling, waiting, holding, looking, and not trying to force a play or just dish off the puck. His work along the boards in the opposing end surprises me. He could easily revert back to the old Kadri and just try to do it himself but countless times this season I've seen him just hold and wait for guys to move their legs. If nothing happens he moves himself.

    To be fair Connolly isn't a net presence guy and Mac isn't strong enough to create space so Kadri almost always has to move the puck backwards (to a defenceman or Connolly) or wait for Mac or a Defenseman to drive the net while Kadri tries to saucer it to them.

    Off topic, I'm surprised by the Lupul and Kessel split, although I endorsed it prior to pre-season. If I were Ron Wilson, I would have made the top lines after the split Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel and Lupul-Grabovski-Mac.

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  15. "DP...I have no difficulty with a bit of "tough love" for Kadri or any other young player- handled the proper way. One thing I would say is that I hope if the brass is serious about Kadri's long-term development, and they want him to "prove" he is a top-six forward, they need to give him an extended look in that situation at some point soon."

    I don't really see it as a top-six question.

    At this point Kadri can't push out Lupul, Kessel, Bozak, Kulemin, Grabovski, Connolly, or MacArthur.

    However, last game Lombardi played 15:43 and Crabb played 14:08.

    Kadri needs to play better than one of those players in a combination of both offence and defence while continuing to develop with about 15 minutes of ice time per game.

    Other young players have done that.

    15 minutes per game isn't really sitting on the bench.

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  16. Thanks DP. I don't think we're looking at things that differently. I'd like to see Kadri play with so-called skill players for a while. But if he gets 15 minutes plus a night, yes, that gives him a chance to show something, hopefully.

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  17. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 19, 2012 at 6:54 PM

    Oh so true DP... Nazem Kadri reminds me of another Leaf draft pick 30 years ago, but the different's is this management knows how to handle and develop players. Here's a little hint into who I'm thinking of...he had intimating speed with and without the puck who could open up a lot of room for his line mates. He could be a bit too selfish by over handling the puck to make that eye popping play when it was best to make the low percentage play or the safe one by dumping it in the corner. Like Kadri, (in my humble opinion) he needed to play on a line with slick talented skaters or else you were wasting his talent. Besides his offensive talent, this young man could play a scrappy game when he wanted to. When he did, which wasn't often with the Leafs, he could make a hit and get his nose dirty when driving towards the net. This young man could have been a much better Leaf if he was given a little time to grow as a player, unfortunately we never got to enjoy the full potential that Russ Courtnall had to offer.

    Whatever happens with Nazem Kadri, I hope there is a much better result for him and our beloved Leafs. My personal preference, I hope it is with the Leafs. For once I would like too see, in my lifetime, a player drafted and develop as a player and have him retire as a Leaf!

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  18. I enjoyed the Courtnall reference, Long Suffering and very apt....

    Courtnall had all kinds of speed, eh? While he had a nice career, I often wonder what it could have been with the right line mates long-term. If they had kept, what was it, he and Clark and Leeman together?

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  19. I thought that Kadri looked better than Lombardi tonight against Minnesota.

    Crabbe looked very good. If Crabbe can play and score from the 4th line, that opens up a spot for Kadri for a while.

    Kadri played 12:22 is that enough?

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  20. Long suffering Leaf fanJanuary 19, 2012 at 10:05 PM

    Thanks Mike. Yeah, its too bad that Clark, Courtnall, and Leaman couldn't last longer than 3 years together. It was pretty much the end of them when Wendel started having bad issues, and not to mention John Brophy's hard-nosed, sometimes over the top coaching style. He almost destroyed Courtnall's will and spirit. Funny isn't it that Courtnall couldn't play for Broph, but he excelled with the always demanding, but fair Burns. Just a thought came to me for a topic for another day...I wonder what the 86-87 team might have been if of the Pat's Burns or Quinn was coaching that young talented team. Maybe there might not have been such a long drought Eh!

    Anyways,it was nice to see Kadri play a solid game and chip in a goal too boot.

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  21. Agree Long Suffering....nice to see Kadri contribute on the scoreboard.

    Hi DP...I hear you. I'd like to see Nazem play more minutes to see what he could do over a five-game period, for example....

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