Few would disagree with the notion that the 2015-16 campaign is the most important of Nazem Kadri’s professional career. In the off-season, the Maple Leafs center was signed to a one-year, $4.1-million contract and the message was clear: Toronto’s front office wanted Kadri to prove he was every bit the star they believed he could be before doling out a long-term, big money contract.
“He gets to come in and have a heck of a year and then put the screws to us,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said in the off-season. “If I’m him, I’m going to have the best year of my career because I’m training the way I should and living the way I should. Why wouldn’t I have a short-term deal?”
And that was the plan for Kadri, who was coming off an 18-goal, 39-point performance in 2014-15. The thought was that, given top line minutes in Toronto, he could start to exceed the 50-point plateau. Previously, he had only reached the mark once, in 2013-14, when he scored 20 goals and 50 points in 78 games. Things haven’t quite gone according to plan for Kadri when it comes to filling the score sheet, however.
Through 18 games, Kadri has found the back of the net just once, and has racked up a mere seven points on a Toronto team that ranks 25th in goals for this season. Thought to be a potential source of much-needed offense for a team that traded away sniper Phil Kessel in the off-season, Kadri has instead been held scoreless in 12 of 18 games this season.
But while Maple Leafs fans want to start seeing some production, it’s worth noting Kadri has been exceptional in every facet outside of putting points on the board. More than anything, Kadri’s biggest issue has been luck — and that he’s having none of it.
Heading into the season, Kadri had scored 65 career goals on 510 shots, good for an individual shooting percentage of 12.7 percent. More specifically, over the past three seasons since Kadri became an NHL regular, he had scored 56 goals on 431 shots, a 13 percent shooting percentage. Since 2012-13, of the 244 players to take at least 300 shots, Kadri tied for 41st in shooting percentage. That’s not Steven Stamkos levels of sniping ability, sure, but it still puts him in a talented class of players.
So, how has Kadri fared in 2015-16? Through 18 games, Kadri has scored on 1.4 percent of his shots. Don’t rub your eyes or check the numbers because that’s not a typing error. There are 210 players in this young season who have taken at least 30 shots on goal. Of them, Kadri has the lowest shooting percentage of any player to actually score a goal. Only three forwards, Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg, Chicago’s Ryan Garbutt and Minnesota’s Jason Pominville, have a worse shooting percentage and that’s based solely on the fact none have scored. If any of the three were to score on their next shot, each of their shooting percentages would be near double Kadri’s.
Which brings us to the sheer quantity of pucks Kadri has put on net. No coach in the league will ask a player to put fewer shots on goal, and when it comes to getting pucks to the net, Kadri has been among the class of the league. In 18 games, Kadri has managed 74 shots on goal, 54 of which have come at 5-on-5. Only Montreal’s Max Pacioretty, Edmonton’s Taylor Hall and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin have more shots on target this season at all strengths, with Kadri tied for third with Ovechkin at 54 shots at 5-on-5.
Most times, that quantity of shots would help Kadri produce rebounds for his linemates and generate scoring chances for the Maple Leafs. Kadri hasn’t gotten many favorable bounces in that regard, though. In his 268-game career, Kadri’s 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage — a stat that includes the performance of teammates — has never dipped below 8.4 percent in a full season. For his career, it’s 9 percent. This season? A mere 5.8 percent, which explains why Kadri’s stumbled out of the gates in terms of both goals and assists.
Making his struggle to find the score sheet in 2015-16 even more confounding is that when it comes to generating chances for himself, Kadri has been among the league’s best this season. War-On-Ice tracks high-danger scoring chances — those are opportunities to score from in tight and in high-percentage shooting areas. At 5-on-5, Kadri has had 24 such opportunities in 18 games. The only players with more are Hall, Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher and San Jose’s Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau.
Eventually, though, the dam is going to break for Kadri. Not because it has to, but because Kadri is too skilled, generating too many chances and getting too many pucks to the net for it to continue. And while the points haven’t been there for Kadri quite yet, if he keeps this up, he could very well hit his stride and still surpass the 50-point plateau.
(All advanced statistics via War-On-Ice.com)