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Nazem Kadri and the Weight of Expectations

To the great relief of Leafs Nation, and makers of the famous “Parade down Young Street”, Nazem Kadri was re-signed by the Leafs to the tune of $5.8-million per year over two years. The negotiations at times got a little messy, but to Nonis’ credit (words that western civilization has seldom used to describe anything Nonis has done in office), he got the deal done and leaves a glimmer of hope that Cody Franson can be in a Leafs’ uniform soon. The reason why I’m writing this piece though isn’t necessarily about the contract (OK, it probably is), but rather the expectations that come from the Kadri saga that occurred this off-season.

I was on a bus coming back home from my History 111 class when I tuned into the Wednesday 5 PM edition of Prime Time Sports starring Bob McCown and Damien Cox (don’t ask me why I did it). I listened in, and one point made by Cox really confounded me:

The trick here for Kadri now is that everything changes. Last year it was, “Can he make the team? Can he contribute something?” He ended up in the top 20 of NHL scorers. And he said I want to be paid like a top 20 NHL scorer. Now they’re not quite paying him that, but they’re paying him good money. Now, he has made it all about the points. So he’s got to deliver the points. He has to be a point-per-game guy or less than, or just under a point, somewhere around there. He’s gotta get somewhere between 75 and 85 points if he plays 82 games. Or he’ll be seen as a guy who his eyes were too big for his stomach. Ah you gotta pay me, you gotta pay me, and he couldn’t deliver. He’s now got to deliver. And I think that changes the conversation with Kadri.

I can’t count the amount of times I eye-rolled during that segment. I believe the number was somewhere in the teens just on that passage alone.

Nazem Kadri is a quality hockey player. Matter of fact, Nazem Kadri is a really good hockey player who got paid like an NHLer with his current resume. Expectations for Nazem Kadri next season are going to be at a level beyond Spinal Tap. He’s going into the season unquestionably as a top-six forward, with Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson being his probable linemates for the foreseeable future.

He ranked third in the league last year in penalties drawn-per-hour while maintaining a Corsi Relative of 11, something that was almost impossible to do on a Leafs squad that frankly sucked in shot differential. He ranked second in points-per-hour, first in first assists-per-hour and ranked third in on-ice shooting percentage on the Leafs.

The last one is key because it’s a subject that some in Leafs Nation don’t want to discuss (fans and some writers included). Cam Charron wrote a solid piece on the probable regression of Nazem Kadri next season:

It’s not Kadri’s fault he has a high on-ice shooting rate. He got lucky, and there’s no shame in saying that he was lucky in 2013. A lot of players get lucky, but it is less likely that will happen over an 82-game season, and the chances are astronomical that Kadri’s scoring of near-point-a-game dips to around the 55-60 mark.

Kadri posted a PDO of 1063, a mark that ranked tenth in the NHL last year. Matter of fact, three Leafs ranked in the top 10 in PDO last year, another indication the Leafs will likely regress considering how volatile PDO is from year to year. There’ve been numerous articles detailing the Leafs’ probable regression for the upcoming season, including one on this site. With the bridge deal that Kadri signed, he’s got a two-year period to convince Dave Nonis he’s worth a hell of a lot more than his current deal. With that in mind, I tried to find some test subjects who took similar bridge deals that Kadri took using Cap Geek. The Subban example has been beaten to death by the mainstream media, but that’s somewhat unfair to Kadri seeing as Subban had two very good seasons before he took the bridge. I found four decent case studies in Max Pacioretty, Logan Couture, Matt Duchene and David Perron. The following is each of the five player’s seasons before they took on a bridge deal by their respective clubs:

G/60 First A/60 Points/60 Sh% PDO Corsi For%
David Perron (2009-2010) 0.776 0.895 1.73 7.86 0.981 0.520
Logan Couture (2010-2011) 1.105 0.608 2.10 6.96 1.014 0.561
Max Pacioretty (2010-2011) 0.499 0.623 1.37 5.92 0.968 0.595
Matt Duchene (2011-2012) 0.641 0.160 1.36 5.58 0.985 0.528
Nazem Kadri (2012-2013) 0.965 1.833 3.18 14.77 1.078 0.471


What I hope you’re noticing is how while Nazem more then outperformed his counterparts offensively, he was backed by unsustainable shooting percentages. The Leafs were tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the highest PDO mark in the league last season and highest since it was tracked back in the 2007-08 season. The difference is the Penguins have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a cast of offensively gifted players that can make that PDO mark somewhat sustainable. The Leafs? Not so much. The next table is showing those same players defensive value in possession, zone starts, quality of competition and quality of teammates. It’s not an exact science but here’s the table (Note: The order of the players in the last table doesn’t change for this one. Sorry for the inconvenience).

TMCA20 CA20 CA20/TMCA20 OZFO% DZFO% Corsi Rel QoCRanking in Brackets on the Team Corsi Rel QoTRanking in Brackets on the Team
17.542 17.754 1.012 34.4 29.1 -0.165 (16) 0.910 (11)
17.849 16.954 0.950 32.9 31.2 0.219 (10) 2.247 (2)
19.199 16.454 0.857 32.4 24.3 0.482 (14) 4.858 (1)
18.108 18.435 1.018 37.6 28.1 -.0256 (15) -0.812 (14)
21.457 20.197 0.934 28.8 33.9 0.444 (16) 1.768 (8)

Borrowing the method that the excellent David Johnson used for a post concerning comparables for Clarke MacArthur, I wanted to see what results it would produce for the five players in question in terms of defensive contributions (again, it’s not an exact science, but it’s worth a look). Kadri comes out really well in this despite the aforementioned Leafs’ puck possession problems, a sign that while regression will probably happen, he’s a much better two-way player than some have given him credit for.  What also is apparent from these tables is just how good Logan Couture was as a rookie and how the Sharks put him in a position to succeed, a team that has ranked seventh in Corsi percentage, fifth in Fenwick percentage and tenth in goals for percentage despite finishing a pedestrian 18th in PDO since Couture’s debut in 2010-11.

This next table shows the production Couture, Perron, Duchene and Pacioretty had during the gap between the bridge deal and their huge paydays (since Duchene and Pacioretty only had one year before their teams gave them their extensions, we’ll only include their one season in between):

G/60 First A/60 Points/60 Sh% PDO CF%
David Perron(2010-2012) 1.171 0.586 2.02 9.63 1.041 0.511
Max Pacioretty(2011-2012) 1.336 0.748 2.35 9.49 1.008 0.516
Logan Couture(2011-2013) 1.078 0.869 1.95 6.90 1.001 0.538
Matt Duchene(2012-2013) 1.030 1.030 2.32 8.53 0.985 0.486
David Perron(2010-2012) 16.785 17.433 1.039 29.2 32.8
Max Pacioretty(2011-2012) 19.290 18.723 0.971 29.4 31.4
Logan Couture(2011-2013) 18.680 17.827 0.954 34.2 30.4
Matt Duchene(2012-2013) 18.237 20.544 1.127 33.1 29.9

David Perron sees a jump in production helped by a higher shooting percentage, while his possession numbers are relatively the same. Duchene’s possession numbers on both ends of the ice are poor compared to the other guys in question, reflective of Colorado ranking 19th in Corsi percentage last year. Couture continues to produce in a similar fashion while Pacioretty has a sizeable jump in his production that made Montreal pay him $27-million. Pacioretty could be a statistical comparable to Nazem Kadri next season. Assuming Kadri doesn’t have the same puck luck he did last year, he could settle in as a 55-65 point guy with comparable defensive contributions at an average PDO.

Nazem Kadri will have a solid season because he’s a very good player, and he’s easily the best centre on the Leafs with Mikhail Grabovski leaving for the Washington Capitals. Damien Cox wants you to believe that if he isn’t a PPG guy over a full season or if he isn’t a top-20 NHL scorer, his contract squabbles were for not, and his ego got too big for himself.  Those are lies. Nazem Kadri doesn’t have to be that to have a successful season. Regression is natural and it’s bound to happen for Kadri next year. Being a 55-65 point guy with solid defensive contributions, and producing a similar Corsi Relative on a team that’s dearth on possession players would more then justify what happened this summer between him and Dave Nonis.

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