Toronto GM Lou Lamoriello solidified two important building blocks and did so for a pretty reasonable amount. Rielly seems like a surefire top pairing guy already; now the question becomes one of expectations and role for Kadri.
If you ever wanted an indication of the power Lou Lamoriello wields in the hockey world, it was fully on display this morning. The Toronto Maple Leafs announced new six-year deals for defenseman Morgan Rielly and center Nazem Kadri and no reporter leaked the news. In fact, even after the Leafs revealed the extensions, no reporter had the dollar amount for almost an hour. That’s unprecedented.
Now we know: Rielly gets an average annual value of $5 million and Kadri $4.5 million. So what can we parse from these pacts?
I wrote about Rielly’s value to the club two months ago and his contract perfectly aligned in the end. The puckmoving D-man is already the team’s best defenseman and he is just entering the peak years of his NHL career. Locking him in for $5 million is going to look really good for the Leafs in two or three years when he is playing at an even higher level than he is now.
Kadri is a bit more interesting, in that he is a very divisive player who nonetheless has earned the trust and respect of Lamoriello and coach Mike Babcock. This is naturally important and the six-year extension cements how the new brain trust feels about the center, who I predict is going to play with even more of a chip on his shoulder next season (thanks to the diving fines and calls he didn’t get from refs late in the year).
Here’s the question if you’re a Leafs fan: when this team gets through its rebuild, what is Kadri’s role? In this scenario, we are of course assuming that the Master Plan works. In that case, I see Kadri as a perfect No. 2 center (fantasize about Auston Matthews or Steven Stamkos being the No. 1 if you wish) and this contract hems to that.
Kadri has yet to score more than 20 goals in an NHL season, though he did have 18 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign. He faced tough competition this season (as did Rielly, who was surpassed only by frequent partner Matt Hunwick and center Nick Spaling) and had good possession numbers.
The next mission is naturally for Kadri to pick up his offensive numbers. Toronto was ghastly when it came to shooting this season, but that should improve as young guns such as William Nylander and Mitch Marner work their way up the ladder.
So what should Leafs fan expect of their team next season? To use a favorite expression of Babcock’s, “more pain,” I’m sure. But the long-term deal for Kadri reveals one more step in the plan and getting Rielly at such a good price will help the team in the long-term when chasing down other parts to hypothetically go with a contender.
There’s a long way to go, but Lamoriello’s sensible revolution has taken another step.