Brian Burke: “What do you want to do?”
Bryan Murray: “I’ll flip you…”
Burke: “Kadri is who we’re going to take. Is that the kid you want?”
Burke: “Well, we’re going to take him. So…”
And Nazem Kadri’s story begins.
Right out of the gate Kadri was crowned the heir apparent to the vacant first line center position in Toronto. Leaf fans have begged and pleaded for that top flight pivot since Mats Sundin’s days here. The moment Kadri put that jersey over his head on the draft stage expectations were enormous. Kadri was quickly the focal point of much controversy and debate. Now in late 2014, some things never change.
The dynamic first rounder had mixed reviews his first camp with the the big club. He performed rather well in his early exhibition contests, but before long he found himself engaged in a public feud with then Head Coach Ron Wilson. This carried on for the majority of Wilson’s tenure. His sarcastic tone and treatment of Kadri did not sit well with the somewhat cocky junior star. He was always high on himself, even starting out. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Kadri came to the league with an enviable skill set. He was right to believe in himself. But questions were raised about attitude, whether justified or not.
As it turned out, Wilson wouldn’t be the only coach have an issue with Kadri as his career moved forward.
September 28th, 2012 (during the lockout)
“The one thing he has to improve is his eating habits. His body fat is probably in the bottom 3 to 5 guys at camp, and that is unacceptable.” – Marlies Head Coach Dallas Eakins
The 22 year old Kadri had spent the summer training with fitness guru Gary Roberts. Just a short time prior to the Eakins quote, then Canuck Cody Hodgson (who’d also trained with Roberts that summer) was called out by Vancouver for his sub-standard fitness. Roberts jumped to the defense of the young player.
When Kadri came under the same scrutiny?
The comments of Eakins, coupled with those of Wilson, made one question if the naturally gifted junior star had the work ethic necessary to be a franchise cornerstone. Were things going to pan out for the Leafs with their highly touted pick or was Kadri destined to not quite live up to his promise?
During the lock-out shortened season, under his current coach, we saw the show Kadri could put on. There were nights he was among the best players on the ice. But the young player was being sheltered in his role and the jury was still out on whether he could be the guy Burke and Murray both envisioned him being that night in June of 2009.
Last year, his first full season as an NHL centre in a Top 6 role, Kadri suffered the typical inconsistencies of a player making his way in the league. While showing flashes of brilliance, many nights Kadri was physically outmatched. It seemed like the gifted center didn’t have the energy or jump necessary to cover the 200 feet of ice expected of an elite centre in the NHL.
For Kadri to be at his best he needs to play an energized game. You often hear Carlyle say Nazem is at his best when he’s hitting. When he’s crashing, banging, and being a pest…..that’s when he’s sharpest. Was it fitness or just being a young player that kept him from playing that way with regularity? Likely a combination of the two, nevertheless there were too many games Kadri just couldn’t handle life in the face-off circle and along the boards. That all being said, he still finished the season with a more than respectable 20 goals and 30 assists in 78 games.
Which brings us up to the quarter-point of this years’ campaign. It’s a slow news week here in Toronto after an epic stretch of snubs and storylines. Without much happening Tuesday, it was once again Kadri who made the headlines. His place on the second PP unit has been given to Peter Holland. Stop the presses. As minor a move as this is, it will still incite the usual series of “coach driving him out”, “FF/60” and even a “simply not fair” or two. But’s that why we are all here, right? We love this stuff. Everybody has an opinion on Nazem “The Dream”.
Fact is, Kadri is two different players, depending who you talk to. Many point his the favorable analytics. As they say “Numbers don’t lie”. He produces at 5v5 in limited ice and opportunity. Then there are those who just wish he would stay on his skates and quit doing snow angels every five minutes. Play a stronger game.
To be perfectly honest, I haven’t been a big supporter up until this point. I appreciated the talent but always expected more from him. Whether at the gym or in the circle, I felt he was capable of being better. There were things I wanted to see before I could be sold on Kadri being a professional that we could count on.
Now I started the story talking about issues some of Kadri’s coaches have had with him. The purpose was not to attack his character. To me, he was a young guy going through the scrutiny that comes with Toronto. This isn’t a guy who is a problem in the room or this and that. Now granted he has a knack for finding headlines, thanks to his own tongue sometimes. But I think we can agree he’s a good hearted kid. Dale Hunter still speaks very highly of Kadri and enjoyed coaching the slick player, who makes a point to note Nazem’s nasty streak whenever questioned on his pupil. Although he’s slid in and out of Randy Carlyle’s doghouse from time to time, the two seem to have a good relationship when Randy isn’t screaming at him. This isn’t a story about his lack of character. We’ve all been young and had all the answers. This is more about something what we’ve all been through. It’s about growing up.
But we, as fans, have been spoiled by the likes of Toews and Crosby. We often forget that it for most, it takes time to become a man. The timeline to maturity in the competitive landscape known as the National Hockey League can feel long and it can be painful.
In essence, we become adults when we take on real responsibilities. Is this what Leafs Nation is seeing now, even those who haven’t been supporters? Are we seeing a more experienced, more mature player? Could the nurturing and growth pains we’ve endured with the budding Kadri soon prove worthwhile?
Let’s not get carried away though. It’s not as if he’s tearing the league apart. But perhaps a corner has been turned. Trusts are being established. The PP time, he’s just on his hard luck. His contributions have come lately by following the team’s latest slogan.
Play the right way.
Whatever line Kadri has been on they’ve had the better of the play this year. He’s generated chances but most importantly during this recent stretch he’s been simple, reliable and he’s been hard on that back-check. Once the consistency is there and Kadri commits to playing the style he is currently, full-time, then the next step becomes the one we’ve been waiting for.
Scouts have said that as far back as Pee Wee, Kadri has taken a couple of years at each level to mature. Only then to eventually dominate. Such was the case in the OHL. Can he reach that level at this stage? Or close? How does management feel? Is Kadri a big piece the Leafs move ahead with? He’s due for a new contract don’t forget, and how many yes votes will Naz receive in that MLSE boardroom. His name does crop up in trade talks here and there. The plan for Kadri is still unknown to us, though it’s likely been decided on by “Shanny and the Sidekicks”. In Pittsburgh we saw the player we have longed for, aside from the turnover to Geno. I can look way past that when I see two the two beautiful hits, the lovely assist and his work down low late in his own end. His line was excellent. As it was against Tampa and Detroit in the previous two. Love, love, love that he’s playing with Leo. They are a natural fit.
So maybe we aren’t getting the power play production we’d like to see. Or the highlight reel goals haven’t come yet. My answer to that is, “meh…”. Offensive aptitude is not a concern with Nazem Kadri. The points will be there.
The Dads who were in attendance have all seen their boys score a lot of goals on the way to the NHL. Sam Kadri has probably seen 3000. Has to make them proud. Knowing their son is living the right way and being the best man he can be, that trumps all those buries.
Last night, we saw Randy Carlyle use Nazem Kadri in key situations late in the 3rd period of a tie game versus the Crosbys and Malkins of the world. He handled it like a man at work, getting things done.
I know the dad in me can’t help feel a little proud. Sorry, son. I guess you had to learn on your own, over time. I hope you understand why we were so hard on you. We only wanted what was best for you.
Leafs Nation, I think our boy is all grown up.