Before last season, Joe Sakic made the bold decisions to trade away two key pieces of the Colorado Avalanche lineup. Sakic sent Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot to the Toronto Maple Leafs in an attempt to push his team toward contention.
Coming to the Avalanche was Nazem Kadri—a two-time 30-goal scorer who had fallen down the depth chart in Toronto when the Maple Leafs signed John Tavares as a free agent. Kadri was brought to Denver to give the Avs a legitimate second line center to play behind Nathan MacKinnon. He was expected to add secondary scoring, a veteran presence and bring an edge to the lineup that the Avalanche had been missing.
He did that and then some.
Avalanche fans quickly fell in love with Kadri and learned what made him a fan favorite in Toronto. Anchoring the second line, he was on pace for another 30-goal season (19 through 51 games) when he suffered a lower-body injury that would put him on the sidelines until the summer.
When the NHL was forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kadri was able to get healthy and prepare for a playoff run that he would have otherwise missed.
He came back and looked even better than before, scoring nine goals—tying him for the team lead with MacKinnon—and finishing the postseason with 18 points in only 15 games. Sakic brought him in to lead the team toward a run to the Stanley Cup, and in his first season he played his part.
Now going into his second season with the team, Kadri is not only a leader on the ice but he has turned into a role model off it, too—not only with the team but as a veteran member of the NHL.
Kadri wasn’t shy about speaking out on racial inequality in hockey and his desire to see the league take the issue more seriously.
“We have a unique opportunity to try to create sustainable change,” he said. “That’s what this is all about. It’s not just one or two guys. It’s every single player being on the same page and sticking together. Morally and ethically this is the right thing to do.” Kadri, who is Lebanese-Canadian, is a member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, which aims to ”eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey” and wants the NHL to work with it to achieve that goal. “We want the NHL to understand that this is a partnership, a collaborative effort to create sustainable change. It’s gonna have to be the whole league, it’s gonna have to be collectively. Not just one or two guys. Strength in the numbers is key. In order to make serious change, that’s what’s needed.”
As a leader on and off the ice, Kadri’s performance in 2021 will have a huge impact on any success the Avalanche ultimately have.
Like the offseason prior, Sakic brought in another top-six forward when he traded for Brandon Saad. Like Kadri, Saad is a veteran presence who can score, making the Avalanche a lot harder to play against. The move gives the coaching staff a lot more flexibility when it comes line formation. Whether they play together or not, Saad’s arrival means Kadri will be playing with high-end wingers a lot more this season.
Before a number of players were ruled “unfit to play,” Coach Jared Bednar had planned for Kadri to skate between Saad and Gabriel Landeskog. That would create a second line on the Avalanche that would not only be one of the toughest to play against in the league, but it would also create a trio that could score a lot of goals—particularly when the opponents had just finished chasing a Nathan MacKinnon-led line around the ice.
The first goal will be to stay healthy—something Kadri has mostly been able to do through his career until last season. After that, he should be counted on to anchor the second line and contribute at least 20 goals in 2021.
Being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons has creates a sense of hunger in both Avalanche players and fans. This is the season to take the next step. Coming into training camp, the Avalanche weren’t afraid to embrace their role as one of the favorites for the Cup. If they’re going to live up to those expectations, Kadri will be a huge reason why.