AAh, Naz. Nazeem the Dream. Nifty Mittens. Whatever you choose to call him, if you’re a part of Leafs Nation, then we all have the same first thought: Underrated! If that’s not your first thought, well then, go fly a kite because this is not for you, fam. I can call you fam now, right? I think we’ve all gotten pretty close after my Hyman article, if I do say so myself.
I thought I’d try a different approach. When I wrote about Hyman, it was to convince you, lure you into another thought process, something that really gave you something to think about. A different perspective. I don’t need to do that here.
What I’m gonna do is provide you glaringly obvious information that dives head first into the title of the article. I’m basically gonna slap you in the face with all the facts.
If you’re not a Kadri fan, you’re shaking your head. Or maybe telling me off because you’re getting war flashbacks to when he demolished your favourite player. That’s fine. We, collectively as a nation, know he’s not a role model. As he was first technically brought up in 2011 if you wanna talk a handful of games but, really didn’t get a chance to play a solid amount until the lockout season for 44 points in 48 games. That was the season that sent people through the roof in optimism for him. He was perceived to be the guy that’ll get us to where we need to go, fed us new things to argue over.
Is he a second line centre? Is he good enough to be a first? Can he take Bozak’s place? Will he work better with Kessel? Is he ready?
Will he, won’t he, can he, should he? It was question marks with Naz for the entirety of his career in Toronto thus far as nobody really knew what he was supposed to be, where he was supposed to fit, what he was as a player and what he’d grow into.
I referred back to a quote on Steve Dangle in my last article (here’s a link: http://leafshub.com/in-defence-of-zach-hyman/ because no I’m not trying to just rack in more views, don’t be ridiculous). I talked about everyone having an opinion on him as soon as he stepped centre stage, right in the spotlight, some of which not very positive. Only getting highlights for borderline, questionable hits and pestering, foul words and dodging fights, basically perceiving him to be a wimp that can pot a goal every once in awhile.
So, excuse you media but, where’s the talk of his 9 game point streak? Where’s any discussion on that besides the fans doing your job for you?
You know full on if Auston Matthews had a 9 game point streak, he’s in line for 3 different awards, five different types of Matthews bobble heads are being made, his jersey’s are flying off the shelf in bundles.
Some expected Naz to eventually be that number one for a long time and as time went on, his personality started to unravel. Maybe it was his attitude, the suspensions, the penalty minutes that seem to creep up a little higher every year (95 in 82 games last season for an all time high… for now.). Maybe it was the dirty hits but, something wasn’t clicking. He wasn’t what he was “supposed” to be in the eyes of the fans, the media, management.
So why is he underrated? Why do the media outlets not talk about him as much as they do with guys he’d levelled in points year after year? Or even acknowledging that his point production is at an all time high as he played a full 82 games for the first time in 8 seasons?
Easy. Reputation. That’s all it is and that’s all it’s ever gonna be. Bad reputations follow you. Good reputations can be wiped out from under your feet and forgotten about within weeks with something as simple as scoring on your own net (You’re doing great, Laine.) Accidentally hitting an official with your stick in a fit of rage, a dirty hit that causes a lasting injury to the opposition (Remember that gem, Ovi?) it doesn’t matter what it is, your once goody-two-shoes rep is long gone.
But, if you’re known solely for a bad rep, a pest, an instigator, that’s with you for the rest of your career and for Nazem, it’s an unfortunate circumstance, especially when it comes to his ability to draw penalties. Usually, as players start reaching around the 30 age mark, they start to embrace what they are and for Naz, after going through coach after coach after coach, Babcock came in, saw the hole Naz had managed to dig himself into and he wasn’t having any of that.
Babs wasn’t gonna let Kadri just accept what he was becoming at that point, showing up late for practice, suspensions, just looking lost in life as a whole. He, and a good majority of us, knew there was something more revving up in him, something he wanted to prove, be it to himself or management’s that never had faith in him previous. Coaches that sat him, didn’t give him a solid amount of playing time, didn’t trust him.
As soon as Babcock came in, Shanny, Lou, we weren’t sure Naz was even gonna be offered a new contract. If they even saw him apart of the future roster, to be part of the Shanaplan. And then we get him a 4.5 mil for 6 years? Uh, yeah, okay, I’ll take that any day, thanks.
After both Kadri and Rielly were signed long term and outta the way, you could start to see Babs push them out of their comfort zone a little bit. You could start to see him and Mo become some sort of separate projects for the new coach of Toronto. They were thrown into harder and high stressed situations, seeing just how much he could nag at them in order to get them to the next level that we knew they were capable of. They were put up against the best, just to dip their toes in the water. He put trust in them, let them go out and play the game their way, the way they knew how.
And it took time. A lot of time. And then right before our eyes, they did it. They reached the next level and wait, why is nobody talking about it? Look at them! Look at what they’re doing! Rielly just embarrassed that guy with that dangle! Naz just skated his way through three guys and-
Oh right. That recognition was slowly fizzling out as everyone ooo’d and ahh’d at the hands on William Nylander, the new rookie, the steal at 8th overall, the new face of the franchise. Then they take Marner at 4th and oh my god, the Leafs managed to get another steal! How does he bounce the puck around from each skate like that?
Then it was all about the big 3 as Matthews becomes a superstar before he even puts the jersey on for the first time, basically before it was even confirmed he’d be a Leaf.
You know, maybe that was for the best for Nazem. It took the pressure, the beaming hot media spotlight off him for a few spare moments to take a breath and let him evolve without too many repetitive questions as he was put on the back burner, an afterthought really.
I think it was the best situation he could have been put in at that time. It’s what he needed. What Kessel needed as he got traded to the Penguins and became just another piece to a finished project as opposed to trying to be the star in a roll that gave no real supporting cast behind him. Naz slowly became just a beautiful slotted piece to a work-in-progress, an important one at that, with an amazing group of guys starting to build around him.
I like to compare his situation to Ryan Kesler but, if we really wanna get to the nitty gritty, certainly Brad Marchand, who, funny thing, matches Kadri in points at 23 at this moment. Although, by the time this is uploaded that will change because they’re both exploding point machines.
Marchand is one of the most hated men in the National Hockey League, counter arguments aside for Matthew Tkatchuk as he also plays with an edge but is finding it harder to find where that edge ends as he’s still a young little hockey baby. He’s actually one of the nicest men off the ice, in my perspective. Brad, not Matthew. Ew.
Which, again, also mirrors Kadri as Naz is just a beauty off the ice aswell, has even created his own non-profit organization for Mental Health. I’ll leave a link at the bottom.
No, seriously, check it out, yeah?
The point of that ramble was, when people like Marchand, Kadri, Kesler, Tkachuk come to mind, the automatic response is “Dirty. Cheap hitter. Slew footer, arrogant, selfish.” Whether he’s actually a dirty player or not, because the fans of opposition didn’t appreciate what that certain player did to one of their’s previously and fans of that caliber can hold grudges until they croak. Now, if you watched the games, you’d know if a dirty hit happens, it’s usually on accident in Kadri’s case. He’s never intentionally went out in a state of wanting to physically harm someone but, rather get a hit back for one on him earlier in the period.
An eye for an eye, right Nazzy?
You look at the offence Brad is producing, he got 85 points last season, eighty five! 61 the season before (hey, that’s an exact replica of Naz aswell, you’re seeing my point on the comparisons) and I won’t even go into what Marchand did at the World Cup.
The guy is putting up crazy points on a consistent basis and if he didn’t have such a bad reputation, people outside of Boston would be bowing down at his presence. Media would be having a hay-day. But they’re not, because they don’t support that kind of player, even going as far as cutting out all fights, roughing and so on and so forth in the recaps.
Brad embraces what he is and decided long ago that he wasn’t gonna change, wasn’t gonna see if he could go even a level higher, wasn’t gonna take away the edge that separated him from the pact. What made him stand out, made him different.
Being on the Leafs, Kadri had a choice. Either continue down the path of a downward spiral your career is headed in, in accepting what you’re doing, or, be better. Try Harder. Work harder.
And while he still has his hot headed moments, going after guys who did him wrong in the middle of OT, causing his team to go on yet another PK, there’s plenty potential for him. If he takes any route similar to Marchand, he’s going to get better. And maybe he’ll never be what some really want him to be. Maybe he can never master boxing up his anger for the team when the time calls for it. Maybe he’s always gonna be the guy where if someone cheap shots him, you know he’s on the bench whispering to himself in the corner on how to get that big headed beeeeep back.
Personally, if he’s still improving offensively every year, let him be crazy. Let him run off like a middle schooler in an act of petty revenge every once in awhile (But he stole my crayon and the teacher didn’t even say anything! I was just gonna make it even by stealing one back!). It’s nice to have a little character on the team. Who else will do it? They’re being taught that when they’re cheated, to shake it off and even out the playing field with goals.
Rielly gets his stick stolen? Well hey! What’d you do that for?!
Naz gets his stick stolen? You beep-beep-beep-beep- the guy is cartwheeled over his head.
It’s just, I know he’s hot headed and has some deeper, unresolved anger issues in there. Thanks captain obvious. You’re welcome.
But just imagine yourself going up against the best players, really in the world, every night, one of them slams your face into the boards, you make eye contact with the ref two feet away as you’re flattened like a pancake and the play continues. Because again, either the big red reputation sign is stapled like a cliche prank on a post-it note on his back, or someone took out the refs eyes during half time. Just imagine someone getting away with doing you dirty like that because they know 90% of the time the refs will turn their head to it?
I would be untying my skates to whip it at the dude’s head. I see where he’s coming from when you deal with an underlying anger issue, constant calls not going in his favour, and to mix that with the roughing, slashing, boarding, cheap hits that hockey entails? Not the best of combos…
Yet despite those nagging issues, his pros always seem to out-way his cons. He’s growing every year, probably one of the most impressive situations of a player almost completely turning their game around that I’ve seen in the league. He’s making that little bit of difference every season.
And maybe after those two penalties in the time span of, what, three games this season that almost cost us two games? What has he really done since then that you could consider simple minded and thoroughly acted on through anger? Maybe it was the wake up call Nazzy needed and finally got from a coach expecting better.
So, while there may not be an immediate solution, I do think just throwing his name out more, sending him a nice Tweet, or Instagram, Facebook comment every once in awhile to let him know we’re still here and we still appreciate him could do wonders. Be it just to please the ones who still consider him underrated or the small chance that he actually sees it. The smallest comments could have the biggest impacts, remember that.
And that, beautiful people, is the end to another wild adventure with Alyssa, come back soon. I’ll bring cookies next time.
Or mention/follow me at @IrwinLuh and lemme know what you’d like to hear about next, because fam, I’m just getting started.
Be sure to check out The Nazem Kadri Foundation here: