Nazem Kadri stood at his stall at the Air Canada Centre Monday morning and said all the right things. Talked about how he slept in Sunday morning and was late for practice and took the blame and the consequences like a professional. The cynics in the crowd might say it’s the first time a player on the Toronto Maple Leafs has actually shown up in the last couple of months.
“I’ve apologized to the coaching staff…it was my fault and I screwed up and I’m willing to take whatever is given to me,” Kadri said after it was announced he would be a healthy scratch for tonight’s game against the New York Islanders. “It was uncharacteristic of me and it will never happen again.”
In a season in which this team has screwed up at every conceivable turn, it finally got something right. Scratching Kadri, even for something as benign as showing up late for practice on a Sunday morning, was the absolutely right thing to do. And good on Horachek for making that call. The most ironic thing about all this is Kadri has been one of the few players whose give-a-sh— meter has actually been on high most of the season. After giving star players free pass after free pass for mailing it in on the ice, he made his statement on a guy who hit the Snooze button a few too many times. But in this case, coming on the heels of an absolutely putrid performance in a 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues, Horachek had no other choice.
He likely won’t be around next season to see the result of the culture change he’s trying to establish by scratching Kadri. Perhaps Mike Babcock or Dan Bylsma or whatever savior steps into this morass next season will send him a Thank You card. It would have sent all the wrong messages had Horachek not scratched Kadri. It would have further emphasized the culture of entitlement that seems to exist in this organization. Remember back when the Leafs refused to salute their fans? Right up to the top of the organization, from Brendan Shanahan down, it was met with approval. In fact, Shanahan later said the players are “entitled” to acknowledge the paying crowd in any way they see fit.
As you walk into the Maple Leafs dressing room, the first thing you see is a sign that says, “Entitled to Nothing. Grateful for Everything.” It’s about time someone lived by those principles behind that message and Horachek did just that. And while he has made a further mess of this team on the ice since he took over, he should be recognized for the risks he took with the decision. By removing Kadri from the lineup, he takes out one of his most talented forwards. By removing Kadri from the lineup, he risked making this a bigger story than it already was. He risked being skewered by all the Kadri apologists. But he did it anyway because he believes in the principle that there are rules to be followed and there are consequences for not doing so.
It was pointed out to Horachek that earlier this season, Roman Polak and Cody Franson were late for a practice. But the difference there was they had experienced car trouble after hitting one of Toronto’s notorious potholes. And they had the good sense to call right away and explain the situation and tell the coaching staff they’d be at the rink as soon as they could get a tow truck.
Horachek has been unable to make this team change. He has been even less successful in prompting them to care about their poor performances. Horachek has watched helplessly from the bench as his stars have lollygagged their way through games and how his team has been able to play only one side of the puck, but not both. There’s a good chance he’s at the end of his rope and if one of his more productive centerman has to endure the brunt of that, then perhaps he shouldn’t have showed up late.
This matter should be closed. But it might not. You never know in the three-ring circus that is the Toronto Maple Leafs. But there is no doubt he made the right decision.
JOHNNY 'T' ON SLIPPAGE: Islanders star John Tavares, who goes into tonight's games on top of the NHL scoring race with just 70 points, said the standard when it comes to obstruction has slipped since the all-star break. He thinks that might be why there probably won't be a 90-point scorer in the NHL this season.
"I really feel like games are being called a lot differently than they were earlier in the year," Tavares said. "I'm not trying to blame the officials. It always seems to go that way. I've just found since the all-star break with how tight the standings are, how big the games are and how important points are, a lot more is being let go and they're letting the players decide the game. And that's fine. I think you just want the consistency there."
Tavares said he also wishes officials were more vigilant about kicking players out of faceoffs when they try to get an unfair advantage. "I'd like to see a few more calls on guys cheating on faceoffs," he said. "That really doesn't ever get called. You don't get kicked out anymore. You have the two opportunities and I've never seen a call being made. And there really isn't that much of an advantage when the second time around they're not going to call it. You know he's going to take advantage of that opportunity."