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By the end of Nazem Kadri’s tenure in Toronto, the argument in favor of trading him is that he always removed himself from the equation in the playoffs anyways. He was suspended during the 2018 and 2019 playoffs before the Maple Leafs dealt him to Colorado. To his credit, he logged 15 games in the 2020 postseason and was really effective in them, scoring nine goals and 18 points in 15 contests for the Avalanche, but he ended up suspended again during the 2021 playoffs and only logged two games during that postseason run as a result.
It remains to be seen if he’ll be able to stay out of trouble this year when the games matter the most, but maybe his latest suspension lit a fire under him because he’s been playing some incredible hockey this season. He has seven goals and 25 points in 16 contests, which puts him fourth in the NHL scoring race behind only the giant seasons that Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl are having.
Part of the reason for Kadri’s success is because he has a bigger role right now with Nathan MacKinnon sidelined. As a result, Kadri has been getting top-six minutes and is averaging 18:34 minutes, up from 16:28 minutes last season. Opportunity is only half the equation though. He’s also taken advantage of it to a far greater extent than most. I have to wonder if in addition to being motivated by the way his 2021 campaign ended if the fact that he’s playing for a contract isn’t in the back of his mind. This is the final season of his six-year, $27 million deal and given that he’s 31-years-old, this summer might be his last good opportunity to get a massive contract. His old deal ended up being on the team-friendly end and if he keeps playing like this, he’ll likely be in line for a substantial raise.
One interesting wrinkle in all of this is that MacKinnon is getting close to returning. He’s not imminent, but the Avalanche are looking towards their road trip that will stretch from Dec. 1-8 as his return window. When that happens, we’ll have to see how the Avalanche balance their lines. We can’t see the Avalanche simply moving Kadri back to the third unit. Perhaps the line of Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, and Valeri Nichushkin will simply stay together while Logan O'Connor will move from the first line to the third. Then when J.T. Compher, who is out with an upper-body injury, returns in mid-December they’ll have to re-evaluate their situation again.
As long as we’re talking about hot starts, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Leon Draisaitl is at a near historic pace with his 20 goals and 40 points in 19 contests. First off, he’s one of just six players to ever have at least 20 goals and 20 assists before the player’s 20th game with the only players on that list being Mario Lemieux, Bernie Nicholls, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, and Phil Esposito, per TSN’s StatsCentre. So yeah…some really good company there.
If we look at the last 35 seasons, there’s also only been three occasions where a player has reached the 20-goal milestone quicker. Lemieux got there in just 16 games in 1988-89 and 15 contests in 1995-96. Dino Ciccarelli needed just 15 games to reach 20 goals in 1986-87. It says something when Connor McDavid is averaging nearly two points-per-game and he’s not even the best performer on his team. It’s not hard to see why the Oilers are one of the best offensive teams in the league. If anything, the only surprising thing is that they’re third rather than first given McDavid and Draisaitl. Though that also speaks to the offensive depth of the two teams ahead of them: The Avalanche and Florida Panthers.
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Shifting gears on from success stories to something dreary, the Islanders suffered their seventh straight loss on Wednesday, dropping to 5-9-2 this season. They’ve been outscored a staggering 31-7 over that span, but it’s hard to blame them for it. On Wednesday they had seven players unavailable because they were in the COVID-19 protocol in addition to being without Noah Dobson, Brock Nelson, and Ryan Pulock due to injuries.
We all know that injuries are part of the game and teams just have to make do with what they have but extending that to COVID-19 absences isn’t so black-and-white to me. I get that the league this season, which naturally wants to get back to having 82-game schedules and already is accommodating an Olympic break, presumably wants to avoid postponing games as much as possible, but at what point does it call into question the integrity of the game?
The Islanders under normal circumstances are a pretty solid team, but under these circumstances they’re handing out blowout wins left-and-right. I mean, Scott Mayfield is the only defenseman who was in the Islanders’ top-six at the start of the season who was also in the lineup on Wednesday. Should a team really expect to play with an almost entirely AHL defense? Ultimately though, they did play, and these games are counted all the same. Once the Islanders players are healthy, they will have the unenviable task of trying to dig the team out of this hole.
Finally, for those living in America, I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving! There are no games tonight as a result, but there is no shortage of contests on Friday including six games scheduled to start at 5:00pm ET or earlier. If you need to, make sure you’ve set any daily rosters ahead of time.