Normally this segment is reserved for pointing out the inabilities and arrogance of many members of the Toronto media core. This week’s instalment however is slightly different as it looks at an article from Michael Traikos of The National Post. I enjoy Traikos and don’t view him in the same light as people like Damien Cox, Kevin McGran, Steve Simmons and many more. Despite my respect for him though, the article he wrote on Tuesday is definitely something that needs to be examined a little closer.
Traikos’ article focused on Leafs centre Nazem Kadri and his apparent inability to find a solid footing in the NHL. It’s odd that of all the players on the Leafs roster Traikos singles out Kadri. Nazem has 17 points in 24 games this season as he once again fails to get first line minutes or first line power play time under Head Coach Randy Carlyle. Last season Kadri finished tied for 21st in NHL scoring with 44 points in 48 games. Pretty impressive for a 22 year old who saw only one other player in the top 50 NHL scorers average less than his 16:03 of ice time a game (Chris Stewart finished 45th in scoring averaging 15:49 for the St.Louis Blues). Does this seem like a player having a difficult time adjusting to the league?
Two months into the season, a more appropriate question might be whether Kadri can be the No. 2 centre? Again, we don’t know yet. On some nights, he looks like he might be an even better option than Tyler Bozak. On others, he looks like he might be passed on the depth chart by Trevor Smith or could benefit from another stint in the minors.
Kadri hasn’t even demonstrated that he can be a second line centre? He may need time in the minors? Is it still an unknown to anyone not named Michael Traikos or Randy Carlyle that Kadri is by far the Leafs’ best pivot? Why aren’t these questions being asked of Leafs de-facto top line centre Tyler Bozak. Bozak has a career high of 47 points despite playing with elite wingers and in top offensive situations since he entered the league. Is a better question not: why is Bozak still the Leafs top centre when he lacks the offensive instincts and abilities of Kadri? Since the beginning of last season Kadri has outscored Bozak 46 to 25 at even strength despite playing about two minutes less per game at 5 on 5. Should a staggering number like that not prompt different questions?
Bizarrely, many seem convinced that Bozak is a player that is competent in his own zone. They use this belief to justify why Bozak should be playing over Kadri. Once again, and I cannot stress this enough, Bozak is very poor in his own zone. Don’t believe what Joe Bowen and Greg Millen tell you, he’s awful. In fact, I’m confident that Kadri is a better defensive centre already than #42 in blue and white. This is a most recent example of Bozak in his own zone:
Notice how he turns the puck over to begin the clip, then wanders aimlessly as his man (Tomas Plekanec) is left alone. Bozak then picks up Daniel Briere only to leave him and pursue the puck despite Dion Phaneuf being in strong position already. Bozak fails to win the puck battle and Briere (who Bozak left) is now alone with the puck giving the Canadiens a prime scoring chance. That opportunity subsequently led to Plekanec’s goal. This happens every game people. It is still beyond me how Bozak’s role with the Leafs is unquestioned while Kadri’s and many others’ are constantly debated.
Traikos then goes on to say that:
Kadri’s problems stem from not shooting the puck enough. Last season, when he had a remarkably high 16.8 shooting percentage, he was at least averaging 2.23 shots per game. But despite logging about a minute more per game this season, he is averaging just 1.63 shots.
Yes, Kadri’s shots per game average is down from last season, but he hasn’t really had an opportunity to have any continuity with linemates this year. On Tuesday Leafs Assistant GM Dave Poulin was on TSN 1050 Radio and he was discussing how the best way to maximize a players’ effectiveness is to have them create some familiarity with their teammates. Kadri has had numerous wingers both this season and last year (including Colton Orr at times). Last season Kadri managed to produce with all of Matt Frattin, Clarke MacArthur and Joffrey Lupul. This season, he has once again done well with Lupul, he has just not been able to get the job done with David Clarkson or Mason Raymond. Perhaps Kadri’s decreasing shot count speaks more to the lack of familiarity with his new linemates and the depth that the Leafs did away with this summer and less to do with his struggles? Keep in mind that in the three games he played with JVR and Kessel Kadri had 5 points and 9 shots. Strange how those numbers get better when playing with good players. Stranger still how Bozak’s remain poor in that role.
Kadri being singled out by Traikos doesn’t pass the smell test to me. When it comes to wondering aloud about Leaf centres and whether they have found a solid footing I think the questions are being asked of the wrong man. I’m curious to see if the right questions ever do get asked. Considering it’s been over three years I doubt it’s going to happen any time soon. In the meantime, despite his perceived struggles, Kadri still has 4 points in his last 7 games and is producing all while playing third line minutes and on the second power play unit for Carlyle. Just another day in Leafland I guess.