TAMPA - It didn't take long in Colorado's Stanley Cup celebrations for Nazem Kadri to have the quote of the playoffs.
“For everyone that thought I was a liability in the playoffs, you can kiss my ass," he told Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman and David Amber.
If you haven't followed his career too closely, Kadri has been suspended for nearly 20 playoff games over his career and eventually led to Toronto trading him to the Colorado Avalanche prior to the 2020-21 season. In 2021, he was suspended eight games for a hit on Justin Faulk that ultimately contributed to a second-round loss to the Vegas Golden Knights last year.
The talent was always there, but he kept finding ways to get in his own way. And now, he's a Stanley Cup champion, and was a big contributor on Colorado's path to greatness.
The road to this point was remarkable. He broke his thumb after getting hit early in Game 4 of the Western Conference final and missed the opening three games against Tampa Bay. He didn't play at his full potential in Game 4, but he scored the goal that gave the Avalanche the 3-1 series lead and in a spot to close it out.
For the entire two-week Stanley Cup final run, Kadri couldn't even tie his own skates. Typically Colorado's second-line center, he took just one faceoff all series long. He managed to hold the Cup on his own at first, but needed assistance from his dad, Sam, later in the night. The Stanley Cup weighs 34.5 pounds, but it doesn't feel that way when you're just minutes removed from winning the trophy you chased for your entire life.
"Do you what kind of adrenaline is going through my body right now?" Kadri said with a smile. "I've got some freezing in there too, I can't really feel it as much. I just wanted to be in the thick of it."
Kadri went from barely gripping his stick in practice early in the series to scoring one of the biggest goals of the playoffs, and remaining a steady presence in Colorado's lineup. That determination didn't get lost on the group, and despite not playing at 100 percent when it mattered most, he was an invaluable piece of the Cup run.
“The thing with Naz this year is the consistency and the competitiveness in his play,” said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar. “You mix and match that with his skill and his ability to create offense and score goals and still be a solid defender, and it kind of tells you what he brings to our team. It’s a little bit of everything.”
Colorado's injured player list runs deep. Valeri Nichushkin, Andre Burakovsky and Darren Helm were struggling to move around the ice during celebrations. Many more were beaten and bruised with battle scars. The fight for the Stanley Cup is a grind, and Kadri knows that as well as anyone right now.
"I turned a six-week timeline into two weeks," Kadri said about his recovery. "What a war."
Kadri is an unrestricted free agent, and after a career-high 87 points and a near Conn Smythe-caliber run had he stayed healthy, he'll get a healthy pay raise from the $4.5 million he was making on his deal this season. The Avalanche have a busy summer ahead, and Kadri's status is one of the biggest question marks.
Who knows if he stays, but he definitely believes in the team's long-term future.
"You see the core pieces we got in place, we've got great players and great people, more importantly, and that's what it takes to win," Kadri said. "There are so many different factors during this playoff run where our maturity showed and I think those building blocks in the past couple of years paid off."
Indeed, the Avs have the makings of the next great dynasty. This wasn't a group that lucked their way to the Cup. They beat the two-time defending champs and, statistically, had full control of the series from the start. We may never see a group quite like this again.
Looking back, we'll likely never forget Kadri's impact, either.