The Friday Four, a collection of thoughts and information on some intriguing player performances, continues this week with some notes on:
• Nazem Kadri's huge impact on the Avalanche and what his next cap hit could be in Colorado... or elsewhere.
• How Philipp Grubauer has been the biggest factor in the Seattle Kraken's slow start despite some pretty promising underlying numbers.
• Kris Letang, his Team Canada outlook, and his place in Pittsburgh as an expiring contract with some sort of reset on the horizon in the coming years.
• And why the Detroit Red Wings may already be running away with the Calder Trophy.
NAZEM KADRI, COLORADO AVALANCHE
After perhaps a slightly slow start, the Colorado Avalanche are settling in again. Their shots against per game are falling, their goals for per game are rising and they're 6-2-1 over the past four weeks. They haven't been fully healthy through it either.
The most recent hit was J.T. Compher, lost for about a month to injury. He was filling in as the top line centre for Nathan MacKinnon, who himself has been out of the lineup since Oct. 19 with a lower-body injury. When two of your top three centres are out, it can really pinch lineup depth, but the Avs are getting through.
And Nazem Kadri has been a major contributing factor.
The Avs scoring leader with 17 points in 13 games, Kadri is on an especially strong tear recently and has scored at least three points in three of his past five games. He's done it from the second line, too, between Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky -- a trio head coach Jared Bednar is not keen to break up even with the injuries down the middle. Mikko Rantanen has stepped in to pivot the top unit.
At 5-on-5 and accounting for ice time, Kadri's 2.69 points per 60 minutes ranks 30th in the league and is tied with Connor McDavid. If you take into account all situations scoring, Kadri's pre-minute scoring rate ranks seventh in the league overall.
(Pause for reaction)
"His checking game's been really good here recently," Bednar said of Kadri. "Committed for 200 feet and he's managing the puck better than he was earlier in the year. He's kind of bought into that, too. It's something we've been talking about a lot as a group and he's one of the guys we need to rely on here especially with MacKinnon and Compher out. He's really elevated his game in those areas and it's leading to success for him from a production standpoint."
In both Toronto and Colorado Kadri has been a valuable support piece. In fact, you could say the Leafs have missed his presence down the middle since trading him in 2019 -- perhaps David Kampf's strictly defensive contributions finally fill a hole, but he won't have the same impact on the score sheet.
Whereas in Toronto Kadri slipped more into a 3C spot, he's really a 2C in this league, though opinion on where he ranks there varies widely. Now the Avalanche face a decision on Kadri, who is performing so well in a contract year. A huge part of his value has been due to a $4.5 million cap hit that's been a bargain to this point, but is set to rise next summer.
Consider that since he arrived in Colorado, Kadri has scored 85 points in 120 games, which ranks 43rd among all centres in that time. That's a comparable per game scoring rate to Florida's Sam Reinhart (who did most of his scoring in Buffalo) and he just signed a fresh contract with a $6.5 million cap hit. That's maybe what we should be looking for on Kadri's next deal.
The Avs have roughly $24.8 million in off-season cap space next summer, but a lot of work to do. Kadri's two linemates are UFAs also, as is goalie Darcy Kuemper and his backup. In one more season, MacKinnon will be up as well and in line for a considerable raise from his current $6.3 million -- MacKinnon could be up in the $11-12 million range.
Of course, there is another factor to consider here for Kadri. His on-edge style of play can be both a blessing and a curse. Kadri leads the Avs with 26 penalty minutes, most of which came in two games against St. Louis where he logged two fights and a 10-minute misconduct. He's taken three minors so far and drawn six -- and it's vital he keeps that split positive so as not to become a liability.
We all know Kadri's playoff suspension history, though, and his eight-game punishment in last year's post-season was a real blow to Colorado. This was a factor in his exit from Toronto and another slip up could lead to a similar departure from the Avs.
There is always a market for centres, and Kadri's a confident 2C who could fill in as a 1C at times. If the interest is large enough from centre-needy teams, could he get pushed up to $7 million (or more) and just price his way out of Colorado anyway?
PHILIPP GRUBAUER, SEATTLE KRAKEN
So the Seattle Kraken aren't exactly shaping up to be the next Vegas Golden Knights, starting their existence with a 4-11-1 record and in the basement of the Pacific Division. As far as expansion teams go, this is historically a pretty average start, so is it time to start taking the long view and wave the white flag on Year 1?
What's interesting here is that Seattle's record doesn't line up with their underlying numbers. Looking at Corsi, the most famous "advanced stat", the Kraken rank eighth in the league at 5-on-5. They've taken over 52 per cent of all the even strength shots in their games so far (ninth-best), 53 per cent of the scoring chances (sixth), and 55 per cent of the high danger opportunities (second). By expected goal differential anyway, the Kraken should be the seventh-best team in the league.
Their actual goal differential? Minus-15, ranking 27th overall ahead of Chicago, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Arizona. Not exactly the sort of teams you want to be around right now.
There are a couple of factors at play here. No. 1 is that their 5-on-5 offence ranks 20th in goals per 60 minutes and that's not just because of some bad luck bound to recover -- their 7.99 shooting percentage actually ranks 14th in the league. Rather, though the shot share has favoured the Kraken so far, those numbers are very low. Seattle is sixth-worst in shots per game at 5-on-5. Further to the struggling offence, Seattle's power play is 31st in the league, ahead of only Pittsburgh's. It's a low event situation here.
More troubling, though, has been the play in net, because while Seattle's shots for are low, so are their shots against. Despite that, the Kraken's .856 team save percentage is well below any other in the league.
With Chris Driedger injured on their first road trip in October, most of Seattle's goalie work has been assigned to Philipp Grubauer , who figured to lock in some security at the position when he signed a six-year deal with a $5.9 million cap hit to join the team in the off-season. Between his days with the Capitals and then Avalanche, Grubauer had posted six consecutive strong seasons and blossomed as a starter in Colorado. In those six years combined, his .920 save percentage was among the best in the league.
In terms of goals saved above average, over Grubauer's three years with Colorado he again ranked strongly against some noteworthy names.
GSAA from 2018-19 through 2020-21, per Natural Stat Trick
You might think this is the result of a goalie going from an elite team to a brand new one, and the increased difficulty of the workload, but again the numbers don't show that. Not only is Seattle among the best at keeping all shots low, they are the best team in the NHL at limiting high danger opportunities, ahead of Boston, Minnesota and Tampa Bay. The Avs of last season were comparable to the Kraken in this regard, finishing second in high danger chances allowed.
Driedger is back now and allowed four goals in his return, a 4-2 loss to Vegas. Grubauer started the next three, lost them all, and let in 11 goals.
In goals saved above average for just this season, Grubauer comes in dead last in the league with a minus-11.19 -- a full five worse than the next-lowest goalie Thatcher Demko. If that number was even league average, you'd figure the Kraken would have pulled out a few more wins.
There are certainly issues beyond the netminding with the Kraken and their offence limits some of the upside here. But GM Ron Francis made a bet that Grubauer could be counted on and this poor of a start would have been difficult to predict. Grubauer surely will rebound to some degree and the Kraken should be able to push back towards the middle of the pack at least.
But if this is indeed a real decline for the goalie, there will be larger cap allocation concerns down the line.
KRIS LETANG, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
The last time Kris Letang played for Team Canada was in 2007 as a member of the world juniors team. He was never a part of any NHL participation at the Olympics and so now, at 34 years old, it's an uphill battle for him to finally get on that roster and probably unlikely. But he's making one last case anyway.
Letang gets one of the busiest workloads in the league, averaging 26:17 per game. He's started with 10 points in 12 games, leads the Penguins with five primary assists and nearly all of that has come at even strength as the Penguins' power play languishes at the bottom of the league.
He's reminding us all how important he remains to the Penguins in the final year of his contract.
Pittsburgh is at an interesting time, with new ownership on the horizon and the final few years of Sidney Crosby (also 34) upon us. They won't rebuild with Crosby around, but something has to give here in time. Evgeni Malkin, who has yet to play a game this season, is also a UFA at season's end and while running it back is perhaps an option, GM Ron Hextall has gained somewhat of a reputation as a builder and it's not clear how the Penguins will make that transition as their stars age out.
Letang is making $7.25 million currently and is 10th among all NHL defencemen with at least 10 appearances in points per game. For him to make Team Canada, he'd have to beat out other right shots such as Cale Makar, Alex Pietrangelo, Aaron Ekblad, Drew Doughty and Dougie Hamilton so that appears to be a long shot. But he deserves a nod for how strong he's still going late in his career, and how valuable he could be for the Penguins in their last Cup pushes with this group -- or perhaps to another suitor in the summer.
LUCAS RAYMOND, DETROIT RED WINGS
It might be too early to already hand out the Calder Trophy this season, but Lucas Raymond is an early separator from the pack with 18 points in his first 19 games. Last year's Calder winner, Kirill Kaprizov, had the exact same output in his first 19 games, was five points clear of every other rookie early, and ended up garnering 99 of 100 first place Calder votes.
No NHL rookie has been on the ice for more high danger opportunities and Robby Fabbri is the only Wings forward who has a better on-ice shot differential. Raymond, the fourth overall pick in 2020 behind Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield and Tim Stutzle, is outperforming all of his draft brethren in 2021-22.
While the Wings' strong start has predictably started to slow with three straight losses, the top line of Raymond with Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin gives them an impactful leading trio they've lacked. Raymond is a game-changer and while the pay off of the rebuild isn't here quite yet, you can see Detroit's pieces starting to fall in place. Heck, whenever Jakub Vrana returns to the lineup, we'll even start seeing the second line take shape.
The second-most impressive rookie league wide to date? That'd be Detroit defenceman Moritz Seider, with 13 points in 19 games and a positive on-ice shot differential despite the fact he starts more often in the defensive end than on offence. Seider may end up being Raymond's top competition for rookie of the year.
It's been a bleak few years in Detroit as they work their way through a rebuild and though they may still wind up around the bottom of the league this season after 82 games, the promise is starting to appear. And that's all Wings fans can hope for right now.