Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Kadri Not to Blame for Leafs Struggles

nazem kadri leafs phil kessel
With the Leafs in the midst of a tailspin, the vultures are looking for easy scapegoats, and as always, some in the mainstream media are pointing fingers at the wrong guys.

@Hope_Smoke does yeoman's work transcribing radio interviews with hockey analysts. Now, I would rather just ignore Simmons' thoughts entirely (they came in a segment where he was waiting to rip Kadri, apparently), because his position on things changes dramatically by the day while the facts stay the same. However, there is plenty of blame to go around Toronto, it's just that Kadri is one of the last players who should shoulder that blame, and as I often do, I feel the need to defend Kadri.

Last year Kadri was Toronto's most productive centre, scoring 44 points in 48 games—a 75-point pace—which placed him 22nd in the league (13th among centres). So far this season Kadri has scored 17 points in 24 games—a 58-point pace—which places him 92nd in the league (45th among centres). Last year Kadri was scoring like an average first-line centre, and now he's scoring like an average second-line centre. That is a drop off, but not quite as drastic a one as Simmons suggests.

What's more important is that last year's point total wasn't truly reflective of Kadri's talent level (at least not at this point in his career). That isn't to say Kadri wasn't good last season (he was), it just means that a lot of bounces went his way which contributed to his prolific pace, giving unrealistic expectations for what he would produce over a full season. Last season's pace probably wasn't going to hold up over 82 games. In fact, Kadri's point scoring was beginning to dry up near the end of last season, as he had only five points over his final 12 regular season games.

The first red flag that suggested he wouldn't replicate last year's 0.92 points per game is that the Leafs' shooting percentage with Kadri on the ice was astronomical at even strength. At 14.3%, the Leafs were basically as good at converting shots to goals with Kadri dishing out passes as the Penguins were with Crosby. Kadri is a good player, but he's no Crosby. Unsurprisingly, that number has fallen this season to 9.3%, which is still above the league average mark of 7.6%, and Kadri's numbers have declined along with it.

Still, with the amount of ice time he has been receiving (around 17 minutes a night, up a minute from last season), the Leafs are receiving pretty solid production from Kadri. Among centres, Kadri's ice time ranks 66th in the league, and his power play time (which has remained steady from last year) is 68th. So Kadri is being played third-line centre minutes, yet his production is more in line with that of a good second-line centre and perhaps even a poor first-line centre.

By upping Kadri's ice time, you would see much greater production, more in line with people's expectations heading into the season. Based on his points per 60 minutes, Kadri would have produced 15 or 16 points at even strength alone (instead of 10), to go along with around 9 power play points (instead of 7) if he was being played as much as Tyler Bozak. That's about a point per game. In limited minutes Kadri has been pretty productive.

When you consider the rotating cast of wingers Kadri has seen, and his relative lack of ice time (especially on the power play), it isn't surprising that Kadri's production has dipped, even without considering his fortunate puck luck last season.

There are some legitimate criticisms, however. Kadri himself was shooting the lights out last season, converting on 16.8% of his chances, indicating his goal scoring last season probably wouldn't hold up. In 2011-12, only 20 full-time players shot better than 16.5%. Only four of those players—Steven Stamkos, Brad Marchand, Jiri Hudler, and Tyler Bozak—did so again in 2012-13. So it isn't impossible for Kadri to replicate his 2013 shooting prowess, and so far he is converting on 17.9% of his chances, but in all likelihood that number will probably fall closer to the league average mark. And because Kadri's is creating fewer chances for himself this season compared to last (1.6 shots per game down from 2.2), his already slower goal-scoring pace will probably dry up even further unless he can manage to get the puck on net with greater frequency.

Additionally, as Michael Traikos referenced in a column in the National Post, Kadri is also drawing fewer penalties this year. Traikos wondered whether Kadri hasn't been attacking the offensive zone as aggressively as he did last season. While a legitimate concern, what's more likely is that Kadri has drawn fewer penalties because the Leafs as a team have lacked sufficient offensive zone time all year long. It becomes increasingly difficult to create chances and draw penalties when the majority of the play is in your own end and you don't have the puck.

Despite a few concerns, Kadri has been the Leafs' best centre this season. Although his production has declined, this wasn't surprising if you looked a little closer at his stats. More importantly, that doesn't mean he's played poorly or that he's somehow the problem with the Leafs. There is plenty of blame to go around, but you can start somewhere other than Kadri.

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