There are times when you would not be able to pay me enough to be part of the NHL’s department of player safety because of the agonizingly difficult decisions they sometimes face. Today is not one of those days. The suspension handed to Nazem Kadri for his crosscheck to the head of Jake DeBrusk – a suspension that will keep Kadri out of the remainder of the series, be it three games, four games or a maximum of five games – was one of the easiest lay-ups the department has ever faced.
In reality, Kadri made it very easy to lower the boom on him. And now, Kadri will not play in the rest of the series against the Boston Bruins. That’s good for hockey, it’s good for the Bruins and it may even be good for the Toronto Maple Leafs, because clearly Kadri playing against this particular team and this particular player brings out the worst in him.
Nazem Kadri is a 28-year-old veteran. Jake DeBrusk is 22 and still has a year to go on his entry-level contract. The fact that DeBrusk has been able to lure Kadri into a smashmouth competition is laughable. What’s even more ridiculous is that Kadri took the bait so hard and lost his composure so easily, which makes it pretty clear he has a difficult time learning from his mistakes. But it has always been that way with Kadri, right from the day he was picked by the Leafs in the first round in 2009. It took five years for the Maple Leafs to figure out exactly what they had in Kadri. Along the way there were trips to the minors and team-imposed suspensions, along with a lot of heart-to-heart talks with him and his parents from anyone in a position of power in the organization.
The funny thing about that was that the on-ice part of his game wasn’t even what worried the Leafs most. Now, though, the only thing that has the organization concerned is what he’s done on the ice. Through much of the regular season, that wasn’t much. It’s pretty clear at this point that playing in a third-line role behind John Tavares and Auston Matthews was a transition that was difficult for him to make. And now, with his history when it comes to a lack of discipline, it’s also clear Kadri is a tough nut to crack when it comes to getting through to him about where to draw the line with his play.
And that’s really unfortunate, because the Leafs really need what Kadri brings to the lineup. There is no reason why Kadri should not be able to transform himself into a shutdown center who is generally a miserable guy to face. His inability to control his emotions may have prevented him from playing that role, and may ultimately provide him a one-way ticket out of town.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Leafs are in a salary cap crunch. As it stands right now, they have just $3.7 million in cap space next season and are faced with the prospect of signing Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, the last of which has arbitration rights, as restricted free agents and likely replacing Jake Gardiner and Ron Hainsey. The unfortunate thing is that, with a very reasonable cap hit of $4.5 million for the next three seasons, Kadri could have been a big part of the solution. Having a very good two-way center with a high degree of feistiness to his game at that price point is a very good asset to have.
And now it looks as though somebody else will have that asset in their lineup. The same way he did with the NHL, Nazem Kadri has made the decision to cut him loose from the only big-league team he has ever known an easy one.
And that’s the last thing you want to do as an NHL player. Teams tend to take the path of least resistance and when it comes to Kadri, both from the public relations and practical standpoints, this is a pretty simple one to take. Don’t be the least bit surprised if Saturday night was the last you ever see Nazem Kadri in a Maple Leaf uniform and his crosscheck to DeBrusk his last indiscretion.
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