On the morning of the first games of the 2016 NHL playoffs it was the 30th place Toronto Maple Leafs stealing headlines. The team announced they had signed 22-year-old defenceman Morgan Rielly and 25-year-old centre Nazem Kadri to six year contract extensions. Both deals appear to be team friendly, with Kadri making $4.5 million per and Rielly making $5 million per. While Rielly has always been very clearly a huge part of the Leafs future, Kadri’s future has been heavily debated by fans and media. Signing a six year extension mere days after the end of the season puts an end to that debate.
Kadri’s contract comparables
Sportsnet’s Luke Fox looked at some comparable contracts to Kadri’s new deal. Heres what he came up with:
Looking at those similar contracts the first thing that stuck out to me was this deal is the going rate for a good second-line centre which is exactly what Kadri is. If Kadri merely continues to produce the way he did this year with 17 goals, 45 points, leading the league in penalties drawn and driving posession this would be a good value deal. They also bought four UFA years in this contract where Kadri would get a lot more money on the free market. However, I think he’s going to outperform this year’s numbers significantly. First of all Kadri played most of the season with stone hands Michael Grabner and gritty Finnish winger Leo Komarov. While Komarov had a career year with 19 goals, Grabner was painful to watch. His stick is where scoring chances -especially breakaways- go to die. Kadri also played against the opposing team’s top lines every single night and was still a positive possession player ending the season with a 5v5 score adj. CF% of 51.4 and a RelCF of 1.2. He did this playing on a line with Komarov and Grabner against the best players in the NHL every game. Pretty impressive for a guy who was only the first line centre by default. If William Nylander or, dare I say, Steven Stamkos or Auston Matthews can slide into that top centre role Kadri could drop down to the second line centre role where he would be a better fit. Another encouraging stat is Kadri’s shooting percentage was well below his career average this season, which worked out perfect for the Leafs because it helped them sign him for relatively cheap. Below are Kadri’s shooting percentages from ’15/16 down to ’12/13.
His shooting percentage this year was unsustainably low and I would look for him to score 25+ goals next season if he continues to play the way he did this year as his sh% will most likely return to somewhere near his career average of 10.5%. This is a really good deal for the Leafs no matter what some people think of Kadri or the unrealistic expectations some have for him. He is a really good second line centre.
Rielly’s contract comparables
Again, I’ll use the comparables Fox used in his article on Sportsnet.
Once again, Rielly’s deal is about the going rate for an up and coming star defenceman. The Zach Bogosian and Tyler Myers deals stick out as a little steep for the players but they were both high draft picks believed to be on their way to be franchise cornerstones at the time. Ironically they were both involved in the Evander Kane deal last year going opposite ways. Another thing that stands out is that the Dallas Stars stole John Klingberg last fall when they signed him for seven years at $4.25 million per. He’s already arguably a top five defenceman in the league and he’s only going to get better. Rielly will be 28-years-old when his extension ends and they bought two years of UFA in this deal. This is a really good value deal for the Leafs as he is already worth that much and in a few years his value will most likely be much higher. Like Kadri, Rielly was thrown to the wolves this season playing against opposing team’s top lines every night with a boat anchor of a partner in Matt Hunwick. Hunwick would be a fine third pairing defenceman but he got absolutely destroyed playing against the top players in the league. All things considered, it’s pretty impressive that Rielly put up 0.6 P/60 at 5v5 playing with Hunwick against the best players in the world. For example, Drew Doughty’ 5v5 P/60 was 0.5 this season playing on the dominant L.A. Kings. Also factor in that Mike Babcock had Rielly focused on his defensive game this year and gave him limited power play minutes. Rielly should play with a much better d-partner as soon as next season and will also see a lot more power play time.
These two deals lock Rielly and Kadri in as core pieces
While the Rielly deal was no surprise, the Kadri deal solidifies his spot as part of the Leafs solution going forward. Both these deals look like good bets for the future and people should be excited about how far this team has come. A few short years ago the past regime was signing David Clarkson for seven years at $5.25 per and trying to sign David Bolland for 5+ million. I have a lot of trust in this new regime and they are earning it.
My playoff bracket
In honour of the opening night of playoff hockey here’s my bracket.