Nazem Kadri is probably pretty let down.
Sent away as the key piece in a trade that the Toronto Maple Leafs hope will remedy the roster imbalance that has bit them in the past, the longest-tenured member of the franchise won’t be along to complete the upswing — assuming there are indeed better days ahead.
Costly suspensions in back-to-back postseason losses to the Boston Bruins will be pointed to as a key reason Kadri was sacrificed, but it wasn’t a lack of trust in the veteran centre from management that prompted the move. Dealing from an area of strength to satisfy an obvious need, the decision to bring in John Tavares to pair at centre with Auston Matthews one summer ago has far more to do with Kadri moving on than the consequences of his actions at TD Garden.
Kadri cared a lot — for his teammates, for the franchise, for the fans. But the Collective Bargaining Agreement shows no mercy, and GM Kyle Dubas took the measures necessary to improve the roster with what little resources were at his disposal.
Thankfully for those who support and will continue to ride with Kadri, what he hoped to accomplish in Toronto is very possible with the Colorado Avalanche.
He’s connecting with one of the few franchises with undeniable forward momentum right now, and in Colorado he will have the platform to have the sort of impact that was lost when Tavares came aboard.
Kadri will slot into the No. 2 centre role behind Nathan MacKinnon, and match up with the top lines from the opposition while having to shoulder part of the offensive load in support of arguably the best line in hockey. It’s the role he’s always been best suited for.
With options like Tyson Jost, J.T. Compher and Andre Burakovsky for his wings, Kadri will also be responsible for helping bring along some untapped talent that hasn’t yet shone regularly at the NHL level. Should he return to form with his big minutes and more talent now at his sides, and return to the 30-goal, 60-point benchmarks he’s set for himself, he will be a perfect complement to the brilliance you can bank on from MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
Already with one of the most formidable top-six forward groups in the works, the Avalanche have all the means to add to, and support it.
With MacKinnon’s wildly cost-effective $6.3 million contract underscoring a glut of team-friendly deals on the books, and which already form an internal hierarchy, Colorado has upwards of $27 million in cap space with just Rantanen, Compher and defenseman Nikita Zadorov to sign this summer.
Able to weaponize cap space and prey on other teams treading carefully along the confines of the salary cap, making improvements to the roster should be a cinch in the short term and down the road.
Just as it was with the addition of Kadri.
But what allowed the Avalanche to turn Tyson Barrie into a season-long rental for Toronto, aside from the ability to front half his salary, was the surplus they created for themselves on the blue line through draft and development.
With Cale Makar and Samuel Girard breaking through as younger and more inexpensive alternatives to the puck-moving Barrie, and now Bowen Byram in the system after they fleeced the Ottawa Senators in the Matt Duchene deal, the Avalanche’s defensive corps has become the envy of the league — even after dealing one of the most productive defenders in the NHL over the last few seasons.
By drafting and developing well, managing the salary cap brilliantly, and feasting on the mistakes of other franchises, the Avs put the NHL on notice with their opening-round upset of the top-seeded Calgary Flames.
It’s obvious that few teams are better equipped to take multiple runs at a Stanley Cup than Joe Sakic’s Avalanche, and Kadri will have a chance to play a significant role in potentially seeing that through.
It’s a great opportunity that awaits.
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