Before we dive into Nazem Kadri, let’s just clarify the Calgary Flames’ current situation. As we are all very aware, the Flames are busy trying to hammer out deals for unrestricted free agent Johnny Gaudreau and restricted free agent Matthew Tkachuk, who will take up a large amount of the cap space available to them. That, along with RFAs Andrew Mangiapane and Oliver Kylington also needing new deals, means the Flames cap situation is going to be very tricky as we head into free agency.
Johnny Gaudreau is priority number one for the Flames right now, as he should be. Gaudreau just came off a season where he tied Jonathan Huberdeau for second in league scoring with 115 points, shattering his previous career-high of 99 points.
All of the top insiders and local media members are hearing the same thing: Johnny Gaudreau is undecided on whether to re-up with the Flames, or take a big payday elsewhere (Hello, New Jersey). With Gaudreau’s status currently up in the air, NHL insider Chris Johnston put out some speculation about where the Flames may pivot should Gaudreau leave, connecting Nazem Kadri and the Flames in his recent articles for northstarbets.ca and recent hits on TSN.
Kadri was almost a Flame before
There is some history between the Flames and Kadri. If you remember, on July 1, 2019, the Flames and Maple Leafs had agreed upon a deal that would have sent T.J. Brodie and Mark Jankowski to the Maple Leafs in exchange for Nazem Kadri and Connor Brown, who the Flames were going to send to the Senators in another deal.
Kadri nixed the trade, and was later dealt to the Colorado Avalanche for Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot, among some other small pieces. Kadri has been with the Avalanche ever since, just recently winning a Stanley Cup with the club. Brodie later signed with the Maple Leafs in free agency, Jankowski left for the Penguins, and Brown was traded to the Senators by the Maple Leafs in a separate deal.
That deal would have very nice for the Flames looking back in hindsight, but Kadri had the power to block the trade and he did just that, which is his right. Kadri later admitted that he was “very close” to accepting the deal to the Flames, but chose to say no in an attempt to stay with the Maple Leafs.
With that in mind, it doesn’t sound like there is bad blood between the two, and Kadri would accept a deal with the Flames if all of the right factors play out. From a Flames perspective, it might be a little odd to reach out to a guy that said no to coming to you before, but he would probably be the best pivot available should Gaudreau sign elsewhere.
Kevin Fiala and Alex DeBrincat have already been dealt, Filip Forsberg just extended with the Predators, J.T. Miller is a year away from free agency and reportedly doesn’t want to sign with a Canadian team, and Vladimir Tarasenko is also a year away from free agency and would have to waive to come to the Flames.
On the free agency front, Kadri (1.23 P/GP) is the only player available that has a point per game rate even close to Gaudreau (1.40 P/GP) this past season. Evgeni Malkin (1.02 P/GP) or Claude Giroux (0.867 P/GP) could be seen as viable stop gap options to replace Gaudreau, but it would be pretty doubtful that either sign with the Flames, considering the amount of interest and reputation that both have, coupled with their preference to remain in the States.
Should the Flames sign Kadri?
As I mentioned previously, Kadri has a point-per-game rate of 1.23 P/GP this past year, notching 28 goals and adding 59 assists for 87 points in 71 games. He followed his great regular season with seven goals and eight assists for 15 points in 16 games in the playoffs. Kadri proved a lot of people wrong in becoming a Stanley Cup Champion (telling people that thought he was a playoff liability to “kiss [his] ass” in a legendary interview following his Cup win)
Saying Kadri had a phenomenal season is probably a bit of an understatement but it was a massive jump from his previous seasons. Before this season, Kadri had a point per game rate of 0.636 P/GP in his 668 game NHL career, and his career-high for points previously came in 2016–17, where he scored 61 points in 82 games.
Looking at these numbers, we can see that Kadri almost doubled his point per game rate in the 2021–22 season when comparing to his career average, which is undoubtedly a great thing to do before you are set to test free agency.
The centre position will definitely be a need for the Flames this summer, as it was this past season. Beyond Lindholm and Backlund, the Flames have Sean Monahan who is coming back from a significant injury and potentially could be moved to create cap room, and RFA Adam Ruzicka, who played 28 games with the Flames last season and didn’t look out of place. If the Flames could add a second line centre and push Backlund down to 3C, that would make them a much deeper and competitive team. If you sign Kadri, and head into next year with a Lindholm, Kadri, Backlund centre core, that is much improved and the Flames have plenty of wingers to build around that.
Kadri will be 32 years of age when the 2022–23 season starts, which isn’t an ideal age when you are signed an unrestricted free agent to a big term deal. If a team is going to outbid the rest for his services, I would think they are going to have to offer at least a six-year term, probably seven. After the season he just had, and playing a crucial role on a Stanley Cup winning roster, he should figure to get at least $8M AAV on his next contract, if not higher. Insiders have mentioned the Seattle Kraken and Boston Bruins as other suitors for Kadri, so Calgary wouldn’t be the only bidder.
Making the decision
Knowing all of the information available, should the Flames pursue Kadri if Gaudreau decides to sign elsewhere?
Let’s make one thing clear. I don’t think there’s anyone out there that can replace Gaudreau. But if you need to pivot and want to remain competitive, Kadri is probably the best option to pivot in the near future, if you want to stay in the hunt for 2022–23. However, giving a seven-year, 8.5 million AAV deal to a soon to be 32-year-old coming off a year where he doubled his production compared to years past might not be the best decision.
Again, Nazem Kadri is a very good NHL player, but one could expect some regression back to his mean season averages when it comes to points. I certainly wouldn’t be disappointed if this was the direction they went in, but it might be smarter to look at other options.
One option that jumps off the page to me is Vincent Trocheck. Trocheck, who just turned 29 years old, is coming off a year where he scored 21 goals and added 30 assists for 51 points in 82 games, a point per game rate of 0.622 P/G. That is significantly lower than Kadri’s output last season, but when you compare their career point per game averages, Trocheck (0.681 P/GP) and Kadri (0.693 P/GP) grade out fairly evenly and are much closer than their 2021–22 season’s reflect.
Keeping in mind the likely regression back to the mean for Kadri, coupled with the fact that Kadri is three years older than Trocheck, I think the Flames would be much smarter to throw a $6.5M AAV offer at Trocheck rather than a $8.5M AAV offer at Kadri. With that extra two million you would likely save by signing Trocheck over Kadri, you could throw towards Erik Gudbranson or Calle Jarnkrok and try and keep as much of the productive 2021–22 Flames team as possible.
Kadri would likely be the best player now, but it would be a savvy move to consider signing Trocheck who is three years younger and would be significantly cheaper instead, as you look long term in a cap world. We are all hoping that Gaudreau re-signs, but in the difficult event he doesn’t, Kadri may be tempting as a pivot, but the fit might not be as great as other options like Trocheck.
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