The Toronto Maple Leafs are in the midst of reshaping their roster, but center Nazem Kadri is expected to be one of their top six forwards. If they're going to win more games than most expect this season, Kadri is going to have to provide offense consistently.
New coach Mike Babcock said that can be the case.
"I expect him to be an elite player," Babcock said of Kadri earlier this week, according to the Toronto Sun. "His training has to match his skill set. That [goes] for all our guys. You can't take the summer off. I expect our best players to be our hardest-working people and set the tone. Flat-out, I've told them that, they understand that. This is a big two and a half months for all of them."
Kadri signed a one-year contract Sunday reportedly worth $4.1 million and can be a restricted free agent again next summer. Toronto's first-round pick (No. 7) at the 2009 NHL Draft, Kadri had 18 goals and 39 points in 73 games last season. The Maple Leafs finished 30-44-8, 14th in the Eastern Conference.
"It is a home run for him," Babcock said of Kadri's contract. "He gets to come in, have a heck of a year and put the screws to us (for his long-sought extended contract). Why wouldn't he? If I'm him, I'm going to come in and have the best year of my career, training the way I should, living the way I should.
"So why wouldn't I have a short-term deal? All I know is when you're a player and you play well, it doesn't matter how long the deal is, you're just going to get paid anyway."
The Maple Leafs last week traded right wing Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kessel, 27, is a five-time 30-goal scorer but has seven years remaining on his contract at a NHL salary-cap charge of $8 million, according to war-on-ice.com. With a rebuild plan in motion, Toronto opted to trade Kessel for forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Nick Spaling, defenseman Scott Harrington and a conditional pick that could be Pittsburgh's first-round selection in either 2016 or 2017.
"What we did, right from the get-go, is talk about building a program that can contend year after year after year," Babcock said. "So when you evaluate your group and see what you have to do, you make decisions and stick with your plan.
"Now, obviously, Phil is a great player and a dangerous, dangerous guy and he's going to a situation where there are two elite centers (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin). He'll have the opportunity to score. We're in a situation where we acquired picks and prospects we like, Kapanen and Harrington, and we like the picks. We need to load up with picks every opportunity we can to build a franchise here, and that's what we're going to do."