Coming into the offseason, Joe Sakic was well aware that the most glaring hole for his Colorado Avalanche was on the second line.
The trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen provided the team with one of the best lines in all of hockey, but there was massive void in place of a true second line that could help carry the offensive load. Monday afternoon, Sakic took a big step towards rectifying that issue when he finalized a blockbuster trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The key piece coming to Denver is Nazem Kadri, a two-way forward who has scored 80 goals over the last three seasons. He’s a player that fell down the depth chart last season in Toronto, thanks to the acquisition of John Tavares - but on most teams in the NHL, he’s still a true top-six forward. Barring injury, he should give the Avalanche the 2C they’ve been missing since they parted ways with Matt Duchene in November of 2017.
What the Avalanche are getting
He’s a goal scorer
Though he finished last season with only 14 goals, Nazem Kadri has proven himself to be a legitimate 30 goal scorer when give top-six minutes. Kadri was given a second line role of the second line center only twice during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs - he played behind Tyler Bozak in 2016-17 and Auston Matthews in 2017-18. He finished each of those seasons with 32 goals.
While his even-strength ice time dropped this past season when Toronto acquired John Tavares, Kadri continued to produce at the rate of a top-six forward. Over the past two seasons, Kadri’s 1.74 5v5 P/60 is nearly identical to to that of Gabriel Landeskog - who averages one extra even strength shift a game.
Kadri can score goals at a high level, he just needs the ice time - something he is going to get next season with the Avalanche.
He makes his teammates better
Between the Maple Leafs and the Avalanche, no player had a better primary shot assist rate than Nazem Kadri. he drives the play but in addition to that he has the awareness to find his linemates when they’re in a positioning to get the puck on net.
Whether it’s shooting the puck himself of setting up his winger, Kadri’s team generates a ton of scoring opportunities when he is on the ice. He instantly becomes the team’s second best all-around offensive threat behind Nathan MacKinnon.
He can play against top opposition
Nazem Kadri doesn’t have the best defensive numbers around. A lot of that has to do with the fact that he spends a lot of time playing against the opposition’s top players. That’s something the Avalanche are going to rely on - especially at home when Coach Bednar uses his last change to keep the MacKinnon line away from elite competition. Whether it be Matt Duchene in Nashville, Tyler Seguin in Dallas or Mark Shiefele in Winnipeg, Kadri is going to be asked to log a ton of ice time against the best centers in the Central Division - and he should be up to the task.
Watch here as he makes the best hockey player in the world look foolish in overtime:
And who could forget the time he put on a master class of shutting down Connor McDavid. pic.twitter.com/IL6yvfnsCy— The Lear’s IMO (@TheLeafsIMO) July 1, 2019
One common criticism among Avalanche fans is that the team lacks toughness, arguing that the team needs a guy like Nikita Zadorov around because “no one else on the team is willing to throw their weight around”.
In theory, Kadri helps to fix that. Kadri’s 179 hits over the last two seasons would put him behind only Landeskog among Avalanche forwards. Hits aren’t the be-all and end-all, but they’re something many Avalanche fans want to see more of - and Kadri will help that in a big way.
Bonus: Nazem Kadri demolishing Brooks Orpik twice in one shift before Auston Matthews scores will forever be his signature moment in Toronto. pic.twitter.com/uVhBOre8FM— The Lear’s IMO (@TheLeafsIMO) July 1, 2019
He’s one of the best at drawing penalties
During his time in Toronto, Kadri was seen as one of the team’s best power-play contributors - but it wasn’t just for is work with the man advantage. Since 2011, no player in the NHL has drawn more penalties than Kadri.
Part of it is because he’s a pest, and as a result he draws a ton of retaliatory penalties. But more importantly, Kadri is able to draw penalties through his high-levels of puck possession. He’s always got the puck - particularly in the neutral and offensive zones - and that leads to a lot of hooking and tripping calls.
Most Minor Penalties Drawn Since Start of 2011-12:#GoAvsGo Kadri - 273#Sabres Skinner - 256#LAKings Brown - 247#LetsGoPens Malkin - 222#Flyers Giroux - 215— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) July 2, 2019
He’s got an incredible contract
For now, the Colorado Avalanche don’t have to worry about cap space. With the bulk of the free agency period behind them, the team still has to spend nearly $6m just to get to the cap floor. That said, though, you can never have too many good contracts on the books. At $4.5m over the next three season, Kadri is a top-six forward that’s being paid like a third line center.
For reference, Kevin Hayes just signed a long term contract with an AAV of $7.5m. Kadri is a better player than Hayes.
He’s got a reputation
Thanks to a couple of ill-timed suspensions over the past two seasons, Kadri has developed a reputation as being a hot head. After being Toronto's best forward through the first part of the series, Kadri was suspended after a head shot that he saw as retribution for a dirty hit on a teammate earlier in the shift. Since it came after he was suspended in the playoffs a year earlier it’s helped Kadri gain the kind of reputation you don’t want to have. Similar to guys like Brad Marchand, his play straddles the line of edgy vs dirty. Now, as a repeat offender, he’s going to be forced to stay on the right side of that line or face the consequences of a lengthy suspension that could severely hurt his new team.
His advanced stats are very impressive
When we look deeper into Kadri’s micro-stats, we see a great play-driver with an extremely positive power-play impact with a decent shot. Over his last three seasons in Toronto, Kadri’s shot contribution was at an elite level. He makes his linemates better while still being able to create chances for himself.
Not only has Kadri been a player with a strong net positive over the last three seasons, the stats suggest that he will remain that way for the remainder of his contract.
Avalanche fans are going to love him
It’s understandable that Avalanche fans would be upset with the trade. Tyson Barrie was an elite puck-moving defender that has been a big part of the team for a long time while Alexander Kerfoot is a decent middle-six forward that some thought would be a big part of the future in Colorado.
That said, Nazem Kadri is going to quickly make fans in Colorado forget about the price they paid to acquire him. Despite his reputation as a hockey player, Kadri is a guy you can’t help but root for off the ice. He is beloved by teammates and makes effort to provide a positive impact in the community - not to mention he’s the best father possible to Jazzy Kadri, one of Instagram’s most lovable pets.
More importantly, on the ice he’s going to throw his weight around, score a bunch of goals and play with the type of tenacity that you fall in love with. He’s one of those players that you hate if they’re on another team but love if they’re on yours. Now he’s on yours. He’s a member of the Colorado Avalanche and it’s not going to take long before he becomes a fan favorite at the Pepsi Center.