How should Avalanche, free agent suitors view Kadri’s contract year?

How should Avalanche, free agent suitors view Kadri's contract year?
Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

Imagine you hopped into a time machine to May 2021, and instead of capitalizing on meme stocks, you discussed Nazem Kadri with your past self. When your past self wasn’t muttering about squandered get-rich-quick schemes, they’d be shocked at Kadri earning an NHL All-Star bid during his contract year.

Interestingly, just about every version of yourself may come to the same conclusion. It’s hard to imagine the Avalanche keeping Nazem Kadri under contract after the 2021-22 season. Now it just seems like Kadri will cost a lot more money to whoever pays him next.

But could the Avalanche actually hash out another contract with Kadri? How suspicious should we be about Kadri tying Connor McDavid for third in league scoring (both with 59 points, each in 40 games played)?

Let’s dive into this Kadri contract year, even if it’s truly difficult to predict how much money he’ll make, and how much he’s actually “worth.”

Should the Avalanche sign Kadri to another contract? Could they?

Last offseason, it sure seemed like the Avalanche would make the painful choice to let Gabriel Landeskog walk in free agency. Until they didn’t.

Could the same be true with Kadri and the Avalanche?

Technically, it could happen. Sort of. According to Cap Friendly, the Avalanche would have about $26.5M in cap space (if the salary ceiling stayed at $82.5M). The Avs currently devote a hair over $55M to 12 roster spots.

Granted, when he shine a light at various openings, there’s more doubt about if the Avalanche could keep Kadri, and the more crucial “should they?” question only heightens.

[Sakic, Avalanche in a win-now mode with Kadri/other contract decisions looming]

Most obviously, Nathan MacKinnon‘s insultingly low $6.3M cap hit runs out after 2022-23. While MacKinnon hinted at possibly taking less than he could, the Avalanche probably need to pencil in at least a $12M cap hit for the speedy center.

Also pressing: the Avalanche don’t have any proven NHL goalies under contract for next season. Even if the Avs go cheap (surmising that a team full of surplus value could prop up thrifty netminders), goaltending is a huge variable.

It’s telling, really, that in a November look at Kadri and the Avalanche, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox wondered if a $6M price tag would be too much for the Avs. (And, honestly, reasonably so.)

How potential NHL free agent suitors should view Kadri and his contract year

For the sake of simplicity, it would be easier if the next Kadri contract was an open-and-shut case. We’d notice a “William Karlsson‘s first year with the Golden Knights”-type red flag shooting percentage, and casually slap a “do not buy” on the cantankerous center.

But gauging the real and the lucky with Kadri during his contract year is tricky.

Unless you boil it down to the simplest terms. And maybe a team wanting to spend wisely really should.

  • At 31, Kadri carries huge “aging curve” risks. At least in the context of a potential bidding war.
  • Kadri is on pace for a 35-goal, 112-point season. His 77-assist pace would already eclipse his career-high for points (61 points in 2016-17).
  • There’s also that whole “run of playoff suspensions that seems almost impossible to replicate” thing.

[Kadri received an eight-game suspension during the Avalanche’s last playoff run]

Take a look at Kadri’s career SPAR chart from Evolving Hockey to see how much of a spike he’s enjoyed:

To be clear, it’s silly to paint Kadri as a fraud, though. Consider various markings of a legitimate, quality contributor:

  • Twice during his career, he’s reached the 30-goal mark.
  • Between 2016-17 and 2020-21, Kadri averaged 1.91 points per 60 minutes at even-strength. That’s the 97th-best total during that span for players with at least 70 games played.
  • Kadri’s shooting percentage isn’t all that outrageous at 12.9. His career shooting percentage is 11.3, and he’s shot at above this season’s 12.9% on six occasions.

Yes, Kadri’s enjoying some luck (including a career-high 15.2 on-ice shooting percentage), particularly when it comes to picking up assists.

But the other catalyst for a red-hot Kadri contract year boils down to opportunities. That thought might embolden a free agent bidder to dream too big.

So far this season, Kadri’s averaging 19 minutes and 11 seconds of ice time per game. Throughout his career, he’s peaked at 18:16 (in 2015-16). Over 708 career NHL games, Kadri’s averaged a tidy 17 minutes per night.

Overall, Kadri’s averaged .68 points per game, which would translate to 55-56 points per season. Elevate his role, and you could forecast anywhere between 60-70 points. Chances are, someone will pay him with grander things in mind.

Don’t expect Kadri to take some big discount

And, you know what? Kadri deserves a big raise, even if it’s plausible that a team might pay too much. It sure seems like Kadri is dreaming big about that next contract, too, being that he changed agents.

Following his rookie contract, Kadri only made $2.9M for two seasons. In 2015-16, his cap hit was merely $4.1M. Finally in 2016, in one of Lou Lamoriello’s best days as Leafs GM, Toronto signed Kadri to the $4.5M cap hit that is just now expiring.

At 31, Kadri’s basically always been underpaid, and this is his chance to get rewarded. It’s also worth noting that Kadri didn’t really want to get traded from the Maple Leafs, and while the Avs ended up a great fit, Colorado wasn’t his specific choice.

So, the Avalanche need to be careful, and Kadri is hungry for a much-deserved raise. You never know, but most signs point to an amicable split.

Now, about the Philadelphia Flyers and that blank check of theirs

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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