Maybe Nazem Kadri said the magic words.
Two days after Kadri talked about a perceived need for the Maple Leafs to "start caring a little more," he was centering a line with Phil Kessel on his right. Talking about nebulous concepts like caring more, compete level, etc., are catnip for coach Randy Carlyle. At Monday's practice, voilà:
Some new lines at Leafs practice: Bozak-Clarkson-JVR Lupul-Kadri-Kessel Winnik-Santorelli-Komarov— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 27, 2014
Those are interesting. Whether the Kessel-Kadri arrangement sticks or not remains to be seen — we saw it last season, and the two wound up playing less than 300 minutes together at even-strength — but a Kessel-Kadri pairing would be a blast.
It'd also give Kessel, one of the few best wingers in the league, a shot at playing with an offensively gifted center; Kadri had 20 goals and 30 assists last season despite getting virtually no power-play time. He nearly drove play overall — the Leafs controlled 49.7 percent of all 5-on-5 shot attempts when he was on the ice, per war-on-ice.com — which only gets more impressive when you factor in the Leafs' status as a puck-possession disaster.
If there's a problem with the arrangement for Toronto, it's that Tyler Bozak, who Kessel helped keep afloat, practiced with James van Riemsdyk and David Clarkson. Bozak, amazingly, played less than 90 5-on-5 minutes away from Kessel last season.
Small sample size or not, the results were not good — and van Riemsdyk, good as he is, isn't Kessel. Defensively, van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Kessel wasn't particularly good, and swapping Kessel for Clarkson isn't a remedy for that.
Toronto is 3-4-1 with a minus-4 goal differential and lost 4-1 on Saturday to the Bruins. They're 25th in the NHL with a 47.0 percent Corsi rate at 5-on-5, and play Buffalo on Tuesday.
“We’re not really happy with our production 5-on-5,” Carlyle said. “Those things happen. Hopefully it stimulates some more offence from our group.”
In any case, it'd be interesting to watch. It's time to figure out how Kessel produces away from Bozak, and vice versa. It might also be time to figure some stuff out about Kadri, too; Darren Dreger said over the weekend that if Kadri doesn't produce, he could be moved at the deadline. Playing him with Kessel for a meaningful amount of time would provide some answers — and, if nothing else, could raise Kadri's market value.