Nazem Kadri

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Avs’ rising expectations put Bednar under pressure

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Colorado Avalanche.

If you look at lists of the best offseasons in the NHL, chances are, the Colorado Avalanche will be on most of them.

That’s with good reason, as this team seems ahead of the curve when it comes to making savvy improvements to their team, and they’re in an incredible position to be a force in the West, in large part thanks to bargain contracts for superstar Nathan MacKinnon, value in other parts of their roster, and young up-and-coming players who’ve maybe only shown a taste of what they can do in the NHL. Sometimes fans of teams make the error of merely seeing young players and assuming they’ll reach some imaginary potential that’s actually not there, yet with the Avs, such daydreaming doesn’t seem so far from reality.

All of that is great, but a significant chunk of the excitement around the Avalanche focuses on the future. What about the present, though? Are we sure that a team that squeaked into the playoffs the past two seasons can make it again, especially with a very different-looking roster?

Ultimately, head coach Jared Bednar is under a lot of pressure to make it all work.

[MORE: 3 Questions2018-19 review I X-factor: Makar]

Let’s consider some potential bumps in the road for Bednar and the Avs this season.

  • The team might not be dramatically improved, at least short-term: Some metrics put the 2019-20 Avalanche closer to a “push” with last year’s version. After all, this team lost Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot, Semyon Varlamov, and Carl Soderberg. In most if not all of those cases, Colorado made the right calls, yet it means players like Burakovsky, Cale Makar, and Joonas Donskoi can’t be seen as pure additions; instead, one might look at them as replacements. That could mean incremental improvements or downgrades for Colorado for next season.
  • A lot rides on Philipp Grubauer‘s play: After a tough first half of 2018-19, Grubauer justified the Avalanche’s gamble that he had starter potential. With Varlamov gone, there’s less of a safety net, so Bednar might be challenged to change strategies if Grubauer struggles and/or gets injured.
  • Integrating the new guys: Bednar and his staff must find the right minutes, roles, and tone to take with Nazem Kadri, Burakovsky, Donskoi, and other new faces. Also, Cale Makar is almost brand-new himself, and his development is crucial for Colorado. (More on Makar, and how he’ll hope to replace some of what’s lost in trading Barrie, in this post.)
  • Keep the top line together, or diversify? For the most part, Bednar’s been comfortable with keeping Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog together on a top line that’s deadly, but sometimes leaves Colorado a bit one-dimensional. Will the above new additions inspire Bednar to experiment a bit? For all we know, finding the right balance could be the difference between another playoff appearance versus a letdown.
  • Challenging Central Division: The Avs may not be able to rise above the wild-card level thanks to a Central Division that – while altered – still figures to be a beast in 2019-20.

The Avalanche have been one of the surprise successes of the league, particularly after the grim debacle that was Bednar’s first season as an NHL head coach in 2016-17.

For NHL head coaches, such success can be a double-edged sword, as expectations rise in the eyes of fans and owners alike. Fair or not, Bednar is under significant pressure to make sure that the Avalanche don’t stumble during what looks like a swift climb up the NHL ladder.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

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The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.

Maple Leafs, Avs make blockbuster trade featuring Kadri, Barrie

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If you thought the Toronto Maple Leafs and Colorado Avalanche almost seemed too quiet on free agent day … well, they combined for one whopper of a trade late on July 1.

It’s a lot to process, but here are the terms.

Maple Leafs receive:

  • Underrated right-handed defenseman Tyson Barrie, with the Avs retaining half of his cap hit on a deal that expires after next season. So Barrie only costs $2.75M on Toronto’s cap.
  • RFA center Alex Kerfoot. He’s a sneaky-good two-way player, but doesn’t have a deal yet.
  • The Avalanche’s 2020 sixth-round pick.

Avalanche receive:

  • The biggest piece is Nazem Kadri, a talented center who’s nonetheless become a lightning rod for controversy after being suspended for two consecutive postseasons. As controversial as Kadri can be, he’s an excellent forward who carries only a $4.5M cap hit through 2021-22.
  • Defenseman Calle Rosen.
  • The Maple Leafs’ 2020 third-round pick.

Maple Leafs work some magic

Personally, I’ve almost always been impressed with Kyle Dubas’ work as Maple Leafs GM, yet I’ve also been a little sad that we haven’t seen him be too creative, what with a team that’s largely been put in place for him.

Well, a cap crunch certainly forced him to use his brain, and the results are impressive.

Via Cap Friendly, the Maple Leafs now have about $11.1 million in cap space. They also still have some of their toughest work to do.

Most obviously, Mitch Marner is still an RFA who could conceivably eat up all of that $11.1M. The Maple Leafs have already seen the Montreal Canadiens throw out an offer sheet to Sebastian Aho, and while Toronto would gladly match something close to that $8.4M+ range if that’s what came Marner’s way, there’s no guarantee that Toronto would enjoy such a manageable challenge.

Of course, there’s also no guarantee that any other NHL team will tender a viable offer sheet during this offseason.

The Maple Leafs also need to sort out Cody Ceci‘s situation, and Kerfoot himself is an RFA whose situation must be settled. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that Kerfoot is expected to file for salary arbitration, and the award could exceed $3M.

So, there’s still some uncertainty hovering around the Maple Leafs. The biggest factor revolves around sorting out Marner’s situation. To do so, Dubas might need to make even more moves, and you can’t totally rule out moving the rights to Kerfoot and/or Ceci as time goes along.

But, as is, the Maple Leafs are in a profoundly better situation on July 1 than they were even at the end of June.

One could argue that Barrie is Jake Gardiner‘s equal, nearly at Gardiner’s level, or even better. That might come down to personal taste. One thing that’s not debatable is that Barrie is a better fit. While Gardiner with Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin meant a glut of left-handed defensemen, Barrie is a RHD. This immediately gives Toronto better balance on defense, as RHD was their biggest weakness.

Now people can debate Barrie vs. Rielly, even.

About the only bummer is that Barrie’s contract expires after 2019-20, and considering his lofty point totals, he may end up being too expensive to keep around. Then again, who’s to say that Dubas doesn’t make another swap that buys Toronto some cost certainty?

The longer term discussion is interesting, yet as it stands, this is a fantastic boost.

One could argue that Kadri is a better asset than Barrie, particularly since his contract runs through 2021-22 at that affordable $4.5M clip. Still, with John Tavares and Auston Matthews firmly planted ahead of Kadri, and with William Nylander as at least a plausible option at 3C at times, Kadri was expendable. Even beyond the whole “Sometimes Kadri sees red, then loses his mind and gets suspended, including during the playoffs” thing.

Kerfoot is an intriguing talent if Toronto can keep everyone together, too, so this is promising stuff.

Avalanche add some certainty, still have a bunch of cap space

On paper, I’m more excited about the Maple Leafs’ side of the deal, at least potentially. Right-handed defensemen of Barrie’s caliber just aren’t available very often, and certainly not at a $2.75M clip, even if it’s just for one season. And, depending upon how Toronto can manage things with Kerfoot, the drop off at center might not be that steep for Toronto.

Don’t let all the disdain for Kadri fool you, though. He’s very good, and was almost certainly overqualified as a 3C this past season. The Avalanche seemed primed to part ways with Barrie, what with his contract up after 2019-20, and rising defensive prospects possibly set to usurp him anyway, including Cale Makar and Bowen Byram, in particular.

The Avalanche remarkably have $27.125M in cap space left over, according to Cap Friendly. Mikko Rantanen will take a huge bit out of that, possibly at a level comparable to whatever Mitch Marner makes, and Andre Burakovsky might not be cheap, either. Nikita Zadorov also lingers as an RFA, yet there’s a chance the Avalanche might get yet another piece … might they also look at former Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner?

***

Overall, this is a fascinating trade between two young, exciting, rising, and well-run teams. We could very well be debating the merits of this one for some time, and heck, maybe a future Stanley Cup Final would be the ultimate lab to test the experiment?

In the cases of Colorado and Toronto, there’s also a “to be continued” element, as both teams have enormously important RFAs to re-sign. If this trade is any indication: buckle up.

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.

Maple Leafs’ Kadri suspended for rest of Round 1

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The Toronto Maple Leafs will not have Nazem Kadri for the remainder of their Round 1 series against the Boston Bruins.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Monday evening, less than an hour before puck drop of Game 3 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream), that Kadri has been suspended for the remainder of the series for a cross-checking incident that took place late in Game 2 of the series.

That means Kadri’s suspension will be a minimum of three games and a maximum of five games.

Here is the NHL’s entire video, the explanation, and the play itself.

This is the second year in a row Kadri has been suspended in a postseason series between the two teams after earning a three-game banishment a year ago for boarding Tommy Wingels.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In this incident, Kadri was ejected for cross-checking Boston’s Jake DeBrusk in the head immediately after DeBrusk had hit Patrick Marleau into the turnbuckle. It was clearly a retaliation from that hit. Kadri and DeBrusk were also involved in an incident earlier in the game when Kadri had to briefly leave the game following an open-ice collision.

As the NHL states in its suspension video: “This is not a hockey play. Instead, this is a player retaliating against an opponent by using his stick as a weapon to make forceful and direct head contact.”

Also: “While we understand Kadri took offense to DeBrusk’s hit against Marleau, players are simply not permitted to flagrantly violate league playing rules because they feel that retribution is justified.”

Kadri’s disciplinary history, including four suspensions and a fine, certainly played into the severity of the punishment.

MORE BRUINS-MAPLE LEAFS:
If Kadri cant change, Maple Leafs should move on
• 
Krug, DeBrusk good to go for Bruins in Game 3
• 
The Wraparound: Maple Leafs need to play harder in Game 3

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

If Kadri can’t change, Maple Leafs should move on

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The Stanley Cup Playoffs present a very fine line between justified criticism of a player or team, and diving head-first into hot-takery and irrational overreactions. Sometimes the former is necessary, and because of that it can be really easy to jump over the line and become a victim of the latter based on a relatively small sample size of games.

After all, you do not want to be the person calling for the trade of a superstar because they happened to hit a cold funk for three games in April or made one bad mistake at the worst possible time.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri is making it very difficult to walk that line.

He is an incredibly valuable player to the Maple Leafs.

He has emerged as an outstanding shutdown center that also has the 30-goal ability, and is also signed for three more years after this one at a team-friendly rate of just $4.5 million per season.

Given his all-around play he is an absolute steal under the salary cap on a team that needs every possible steal it can get given its contract situation at the top of the roster.

That is the good that he provides, and why he should, in theory, unquestionably be a part of the team’s future.

The problem is that he has to actually be on the ice for any of that to matter, and he continues to take himself out of the lineup because of the often times dangerous and reckless style of game that he plays.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It showed itself again in Game 2 against the Boston Bruins on Saturday night when he was ejected for cross-checking Jake DeBrusk in the side of the head, earning himself an in-person hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety.

That means he is almost certainly looking at a hefty suspension that could sideline him for the remainder of Round 1, and perhaps beyond should the Maple Leafs advance.

If they do not advance, his absence might be a big reason why.

Again.

If Saturday’s incident was a one-time, isolated thing it would be a lot easier to accept it, criticize him for a selfish, dumb play, and deal with whatever consequences that might come from it. It would stink, it would be worthy of criticism, but you move on and bring him back next season without thinking twice about it.

But this is not an isolated incident.

Not only does Kadri have an extensive track record of incidents that have risen to the level of supplemental discipline, resulting in several suspensions, but this is the second year in a row he has taken himself out of a playoff series for an extended period of time due to his own recklessness and selfishness. He was suspended for three games during the Maple Leafs’ matchup against the Bruins a year ago for boarding Tommy Wingels, and while his absence may not have been the only reason, they lost two of those three games.

Because of that suspension, and because of his entire history, he has now at risk of missing a significant number with his upcoming suspension.

That can not happen, not only because it is a horrible way to play the game, but also because the Maple Leafs need him.

Emotions were understandably high in Game 2, especially with the way the game was played, and Kadri and DeBrusk were at the center of a lot of it.

Not only was Kadri briefly knocked out of the game due to a controversial open-ice hit by DeBrusk, but DeBrusk hit Patrick Marleau into the turnbuckle just prior to the cross-check. But none of that is an excuse for Kadri to lose his composure the way he did and react in that way. Now the rest of his teammates are going to be hurt by it, pay the price, and have to deal with the consequences.

All of that puts a ton of pressure on Kadri and the Maple Leafs whenever he does return to the lineup, whether it is this postseason or next season.

He has to change the way he plays. He has to stop crossing the line and being as reckless as he tends to be.

Players like Kadri are so frustrating because they shouldn’t have to resort to this stuff to make a name for themselves in the NHL and have a meaningful spot on a contending roster. His hockey talents are good enough on their own that he shouldn’t have to be a pest or play dirty to make an impact.

Especially since those hockey talents make him so valuable that the Maple Leafs can not afford to lose him when he inevitably does resort to those shenanigans that get him removed from the lineup.

At some point the Maple Leafs have to ask themselves at what point he is no longer worth the hassle, because if you can’t count on him to stay out of trouble at the biggest time of the year, what good is everything else that he offers?

Maybe they have already reached that point. If they haven’t, he shouldn’t have too many chances remaining to prove he can change.

MORE BRUINS-MAPLE LEAFS:
Krug, DeBrusk good to go for Bruins in Game 3
Kadri could face big suspension 
The Wraparound: Maple Leafs need to play harder in Game 3

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.