Thursday, March 7, 2013

Will Kadri Kill the Getzlaf Dream?

nazem kadri leafs goal
For as long as the need for a No. 1 centre has existed, Leafs fans have looked to July 1, 2013 and dreamt of Ryan Getzlaf. But with Nazem Kadri's emergence, this off-season's game plan might be changing.

Getzlaf is a dominant first-line centre, one having a major bounce-back year, leading the Anaheim Ducks with 27 points in 22 games, and with that comes a heavy price. On a seven-year deal, which would take him into his mid-30s, Getzlaf is going to make at least $8 million a season. That's big money, the majority of which will get paid out during what typically amounts to decline years, even for some of the most elite players.

Alternatively, Kadri, despite playing third-line minutes and getting second-line power play time, leads the Leafs in points with 24 in 24 games and is not yet in his prime. Moreover, on a per-minute basis, Kadri is scoring at an elite clip. Of forwards who have played at least 10 games, Kadri has more even-strength points per minute than all but five players. He has done this while playing substantial minutes with Leo Komorov and Colton Orr, two no-offense players (although Komorov at least brings something worthwhile).

He has exceeded all expectations in his first full season and represents an in-house solution to the first-line centre problem.

One of the previous knocks against Kadri, his defense, is no longer a major issue. He has been much better defensively this season, ridding his game of a lot of the high-risk plays in high-risk areas (around the offensive and defensive blue line in particular) that infuriated Ron Wilson. In addition, he's got a nasty edge to his game and isn't afraid to throw a body check, some of which have been thunderous.

He is struggling in the face-off circle, winning only 44.8% of his draws, although this is only slightly lower than Evgeni Malkin (45.6%) and Steven Stamkos (46.6%), so it's not a fatal flaw. Plus, Kadri has been moved back and forth from the wing to centre throughout his pro career, so knowing that he is going to stick in the middle will hopefully force him to practice and become better.

One issue with giving Kadri the first line job is that he might not be ready for the jump in competition. Randy Carlyle has wisely brought Kadri along very slowly, trying to match him up against the weakest competition possible (usually third liners) and giving him more starts in the offensive zone. Recently, however, Carlyle is starting to trust Kadri a little more, giving him more defensive zone face offs and seeing how he handles tougher matchups. Against the Islanders on Feb. 28, for example, Carlyle started matching Kadri's line against Tavares' line as the game progressed.

But being the No. 1 centre also means going up against the opposition's top defensive pair. Hello, Zdeno Chara. Who knows how Kadri will handle playing against the top defencemen, rather than the second or third pair. Therefore, pencilling Kadri's name between Kessel and JVR/Lupul next season is premature. So, instead of just hoping Kadri can take on the first-line duties, he should be given an audition at some point this season.

At this point we know what Tyler Bozak can do on the first line. While not valueless (Bozak is pretty strong on the draws), Bozak is being carried offensively by Kessel and JVR/Lupul and is pretty poor defensively. He's just not very good. At this point everyone knows he's not a No. 1 centre, even the people who like him, so why continually slot him above his head? Swap Bozak and Kadri and see how each fares. If Bozak could be a great third-line centre, like many claim, why not get a first-hand look? Plus, taking Bozak away from his two main breadwinners will deflate his stats and worsen his free agency ammunition, a benefit if the Leafs are interested in bringing him back.

For the rest of the year, Kadri should be given increasing amounts of ice time, particularly on the power play, and placed in increasingly tougher situations (to an extent). Eventually, he should get a chance to ride with Kessel.

If Kadri shows enough production during his first-line centre audition, run with him next year. If Kadri can maintain that production next season (60 points over 82 games is the production of a poor No. 1 centre and 70 points is that of an average No. 1 centre), he would be an solid option at a fraction of the cost of Getzlaf, allowing the Leafs to spend their ample resources on other areas of need.

Most Leafs fans have been dreaming about Ryan Getzlaf as the No. 1 centre in Toronto, but it might turn out that the Dream was right for the job all along.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Getzlaf killed the Getzlaf dream.

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...