Colorado Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri didn’t have the most ceremonious end to his Toronto Maple Leafs career.
After being a first-round selection by the team way back in 2009, Kadri saw two straight playoff suspensions precede his departure from the Leafs.
Following 561 games over ten years in Toronto, Kadri was sent over to the Avalanche in an infamous trade back in 2019 that saw the Leafs acquire defenceman Tyson Barrie and forward Alexander Kerfoot.
The biggest winner of the trade? It’s likely Kadri himself. He’s off to one of the best starts of his career, as he’s currently fourth in league scoring, with 23 points in just 15 games.
In seven games in November alone, Kadri has put up 17 points. Safe to say he’s picking up the slack for Colorado, who have now won five games in a row despite the absence of star forward Nathan MacKinnon since November 6.
At 31-years-old, Kadri is in the final year of his six-year deal originally signed with Toronto back in 2016. He’s no young spring chicken anymore in year 13 anymore, but he’s set up for one final big payday should he continue to stay hot.
What can the Avalanche (or someone else) expect to pay Kadri on his next deal?
The Avalanche have plenty of reason to keep Kadri around, and it’s sensible to assume they’ll pitch him on a long-term offer.
They’re very clearly in win-now mode, as the NHL’s reigning Presidents’ Trophy winner. According to capfriendly.com, they’ve got nine scheduled unrestricted free agents for next season, including five forwards coming off the books.
At a cap hit of $4.5 million, Kadri is the second-highest-paid of those forwards currently, behind 26-year-old Andre Burakovsky at $4.9 million.
Kadri isn’t likely to keep up his current pace, as he’s yet to manage a full NHL season at the point-per-game mark. But his value to the Avalanche as the second-line centre is also abundantly clear and has never been more apparent than right now.
Signing players in their 30s on long-term deals is always a gamble, but it’s hard to see the Avalanche letting Kadri walk without giving him a big offer, either.
It’s a pretty thin class for UFA centres, too. The Rangers’ Ryan Strome, Blue Jackets’ Max Domi, and San Jose’s Tomas Hertl could all hit the market. All three of those players are currently in the $4.5-6 million range, but none are having the season Kadri currently is.
Bigger, older names like Claude Giroux and Evgeni Malkin are also seeing their contracts expire, though it’s tough to imagine either of them not sticking around with their lifetime teams in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
A good comparable contract could be Calgary’s Mikael Backlund, who signed a six-year extension with the Flames for $5.25 million per year back in 2018 just before he turned 29, or Nashville’s 29-year-old Mikael Granlund, who signed a four-year deal worth $5 million deal per year this past offseason.
But if Kadri wants leverage in the situation, he might have just enough for it. The Avalanche can’t afford to lose him, and he might be the best free agent option available. He’s already gone through four contracts in his career, with none hitting over $4.5 million per season. Awaiting one final payday, Kadri can only hope he can stay as hot as he’s been to start this year.
How has Toronto’s return for Kadri fared?
Barrie put up 39 points in his lone season with the Leafs, before signing a free agent deal in Edmonton. He never quite seemed to mesh well with Toronto, and it was no surprise when he departed for the Oilers before the beginning of the 2021 season.
Kerfoot, meanwhile, signed a four-year deal with the Leafs shortly after the trade and is now in year three of his contract. He’s hit 62 points over 141 games, while Kadri is at 91 over 122 in Colorado. Offensively, there’s a noticeable dropoff between the two players in what’s left of Toronto’s return.
In short, Kerfoot has been an alright player (and actually was in second place on the Leafs in playoff scoring last year). But with Kadri looking like one of the league’s hottest offensive players, Toronto’s front office has to be wondering if they made a mistake giving up on him too soon.