In many ways, this season was projected to be a big one for Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri. This was the final year of the six-year, $27-million contract he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016, and he’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Kadri will be 32 in October, so the contract he signs this off-season could be the biggest payday he ever gets as a player.
As most people know by now, Kadri has met the challenge of producing big numbers on a stacked Avalanche team this year: He currently sits seventh overall among NHL assist leaders, with 55 in 64 games. Kadri also has 26 goals, giving him 81 points – good enough to be tied for eighth overall in league point-getters. He has demolished his previous personal best in points (61, set in the 2016-17 campaign with Toronto) and by virtually every metric, he has seen his game peak this year.
And right now, with Avs star forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog sidelined with injuries that may keep them out of the lineup until the post-season begins, Kadri is Colorado’s No. 1 center. And – and this is arguably the most important thing for Kadri – he needs to demonstrate that his days of being a hothead who could easily be thrown off his game are in the past. Opponents will test him every time he’s on the ice, seeing if they can poke, prod and cross-check him into a rage, and Avs GM Joe Sakic and head coach Jared Bednar expect Kadri to react to it with maturity.
Kadri has to know agitators are coming for him ,and that he is going to be a prime target for the opposition, especially once the playoffs begin. If he fails to conduct himself with calmness and a focus on the bigger picture, he is only going to underscore a reputation he doesn’t want. He has become infamous for crossing the line as he tries to play a rugged game, and the league has grown tired of that act. His most recent suspension of eight games last season was a clear message to Kadri. He has to change his approach, or suffer even more punitive measures from the NHL’s department of player safety.
Kadri has an opportunity to earn a raise from his current $4.6-million salary to something in the area of $6-7 million per year. His improvement in production this season shows he can be a high-impact competitor, and there will be a number of teams with enough salary-cap space and a desire to improve their offense lining up to bid on Kadri’s services.
Per CapFriendly.com, the Avalanche have some $27.5 million in cap space this coming off-season, but they have only signed 12 players, and they have other UFAs to address, including winger Andre Burakovsky, and defensemen Josh Manson and Ryan Murray. The same situation Kadri faced in Toronto – he was a valuable component, but ultimately, too costly – is going to happen to him in Denver.
There is a chance Sakic moves around some money and finds a way to hold on to Kadri beyond this season, but more likely is Kadri’s departure to play for the third team of his 12-year NHL career. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – that’s the way the salary cap works, redistributing talent throughout the league on a yearly basis – but Kadri can still contribute enough to the Avs’ Stanley Cup run this season to help them capture a Cup before he moves on. If he keeps his cool, and uses his considerable skill, he just may be one of the guys who leads them to a championship.