So, what a game that was on Saturday? A solid 6-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks with some pretty goals by some good young kids, and a karaoke duet for the ages. Oh, some other stuff happened, but I don't think we need to talk about it.
What's that? You want to talk about it?! Fine. It was a complete mess. The one saving grace is by scratching Frank Corrado- who has been pretty vocal in his displeasure with the Canucks- we probably prevented someone from getting a chair over the head or being impaled by a trident or something.
Anyway, here's some thoughts on a third period that went from "hockey game" to "1980s Norris Division hockey game" to "full-on WWE Raw match.:
Thought #1: Nazem Kadri is a Superpest Playing a Team Prone To It
Leaf fans have been through this before with Kadri. As his abilities have evolved over the years, so has his propensity to be the ultimate pest. Much as I malign playing against guys like Brad Marchand or Brendan Gallagher, there's no doubt that every team wants that kind of player to be playing for them. It was only a week ago where we were lauding his ability to annoy the Oilers so much that he made Connor McDavid cry and Milan Lucic make a series of loud grunting noises. Boy, that was a lot of fun, wasn't it?
You also had to know Kadri was going to be playing the pest game in spades against Vancouver. He had to. Because, if any Canucks fans are reading this, oh god please put the tomatoes down for a second and let me finish....
Your team is incredibly easy to piss off.
Okay, you may now fire away....*ducks*
This is not a knee-jerk reaction to Saturday's game; this is me telling you my observation of having watched this team over the years. Teams have been quite good at getting into their heads and off their game. The 2011 Bruins are probably the best example, but they didn't do anything the Blackhawks hadn't done before, or the Kings after that, or the Flames (Micheal Ferland, specifically) after that. It really isn't much of a secret around the league at this point.
Back to Kadri: after having effectively played the pest game against McDavid, you knew he'd be working the same tricks on the Sedins. For one thing, he's an effective defensive player and the Sedins are the Canucks' best offensive weapons. For another, Vancouver's aforementioned Achilles Heel is quite easy to activate through getting in the Sedins' face, and Kadri makes for the perfect heel.
Of course, were Kadri only up to his usual pesky fun and games, I probably wouldn't have any purpose in writing this. Unfortunately...
Thought #2: Kadri Takes It Too Far Sometimes
We've been down this road before, unfortunately. One of the things that makes Nazem Kadri a valuable asset is also his greatest downfall. This hit was another example in a growing list of where Kadri can take his role just a step or two too far. In April 2016, he was suspended four games for a cross-check to the head on Detroit's Luke Glendening. In March 2015, he was given four games for an elbow to the head on then-Oiler Matt Fraser. In November 2013, it was three games for running Wild goalie Nicklas Backstrom.
Kadri's rap sheet totals three suspensions and 11 games over three NHL seasons. He's now in fifth full NHL season. And the thing about all of these suspensions is there simply was no argument that he had deserved a suspension. it has been a recurring reality that Kadri takes his edge over some boundaries, and needs to learn to rein it in so that we're not doing this whole "losing an effective top-six player to suspension" every season. Except...
Thought #3: Kadri Wasn't Suspended, Even Though His Hit Should Be Suspendable...
Regardless of what NHL's Department of Player Safety says, that Kadri evaded punishment this time does not mean that he did not again cross the line with his hit on Daniel Sedin. It was a blindside hit of a player in a vulnerable position. It was also an unnecessary hit; Kadri was within a distance that he could've played the puck instead of the man. The (often-forgotten) fact that Sedin scored on that play tells you enough that, in fact, playing the puck would've been the smarter hockey play. I really don't think we can argue that Kadri wasn't trying to make the smarter play, but was trying to just the truck the everloving crap out of Daniel Sedin. That alone makes it kind of the hit that the NHL should really be trying to prevent.
Thought #4: ....But It Isn't Suspendable
The devil, as always, is in the details.
Technically speaking, blindside hits are not an infraction of the rules without something else. To suspend for a blindside hit- which isn't itself an infraction of the rules- the NHL needs to find something that is an infraction.
This is where it gets murky. Was the head the principal point of contract? Did he leave his feet? The NHL didn't think so, and I would personally having a hard time concluding one way or the other. It generally looks shoulder-to-shoulder at a lot of angles, though there are also some very unflattering angles (those would be the ones largely passed around Canucks Twitter on the weekend; bonus points if it was a freeze frame to really add to the Zapruder effect). When every angle of the same play tells you something different, it's hard to make a definitive conclusion as to what happened. Based on that alone, I am not the least bit surprised Kadri got off scot free.
Would I be mad if a similar hit happened to, say, Auston Matthews? Of course I would. I'm not saying the league was right; just that under the strict interpretation of their own rulebook, they were probably correct:
Bottom line: if a hit should be considered unacceptable (it should) but does not merit suspension under the NHL's rules (it doesn't), then the solution is to change the rule.
Thought #5: The Existence of Alex Burrows Justifies Nothing About Kadri...
Let me get this out of the way: I, like you, think Alex Burrows is scum. I've called him a dumpster fire many times before, though have tried to stop since that's probably an insult to dumpster fire. He's a finger-biting, hair-pulling, verbal-bullying, fight-avoiding rat. The preceding sentence is about the nicest thing I've ever said about him.
What his existence on the Canucks roster does not do is justify the fact that Vancouver fans are really angry that your player just blindsided half of the two-headed Swedish Hydra that is their team's best player. Hello? We're the team that employed Tie Domi and Darcy Tucker for a number of years. If you still think that having bad players justifies dirty hits, then you are sounding exactly like Senators fans who justified that Daniel Alfredsson cheap shot on Tucker in the 2002 playoffs. Do you want to sound like a Senators fan? I didn't think so.
Thought #6: ...But Seriously, Screw That Dumpster Crap He Did on Morgan Rielly
Where Leaf fans are justified in bringing up the spectre of Alex Burrows is the fact he....oh, I don't know, speared the everloving crap out of Morgan Rielly? Or tried to take a swing at Rielly from the bench?! At worst, it was completely unjustified "pound of flesh" retribution in a game spiralling out of control. At best, it was fairly gutless "retaliation" on what was a hard, but unequivocally clean, hit on Jannik Hansen.
Full credit, by the way, to Rielly for defending himself with a solid takedown. He's the one Leaf in this mess (not including a Leo Komarov cameo as Derek Dorsett's punching bag) that I can say was smart and not stupid, because....
Thought #7: Matt Martin's Logic Makes Sense Under "The Code" But Holy Was It Stupid
Seriously, Martin jumped Troy Stecher out of nowhere? What was that?! Like, what in the hell exactly were you thinking there?
My best guess was that Martin was acting as how he thought he had to. Remember, Burrows- Vancouver's fourth liner- just decided to take liberties on one of Toronto's better blueliners. It's entirely possible that Martin had it in his head to do the same (yes, their blueline is that thin and injury-depleted that Troy Stecher is probably their best Rielly equivalent at the moment).
This really is where the "Code" mentality in this game gets infuriatingly stupid: each side that feels wronged needs to extract their pound of flesh to even the score. The problem is that in a game like this which has devolved into utter madness, each side feels wronged. Vancouver probably believed Burrows was justified on going after Rielly for a (clean) hit, which is dumb. Toronto probably thought Martin was justified in doing what Burrows did to them, which is also dumb. You probably could've figured out at some point in the third period that, while entertaining on some primal level, this was all so incredibly, horrifically dumb. At some point, one team just needs to say that enough is enough and stop.
Of course, while Martin thought he was validated in his actions, it was incredibly stupid because now Vancouver feels wronged, and welp...
Thought #8: Vancouver's Gonna Kinda Sorta Want Revenge, You Guys
Erik Gudbranson said it himself. He basically implied his team's mandate is to "kill" Matt Martin. You don't need to be a history buff to remember that the last time a Canuck wearing #44 wanted to exact revenge on a fourth-liner from Windsor, it did not end so well.
The chances something will happen are, for the most part, minimal. Some Canuck might fight Martin and Kadri, and if it's a close game, that'll be it. But do remember that Bertuzzi-on-Moore happened in a fairly lopsided game. What's worse is if the Canucks interpret Martin's actions as "jumping a rookie" because, y'know, the Leafs happen to have a lot of those. A lot of good, indispensable rookies that just wanna have a nice time, score some goals, sing along to some Dad Rock power ballads. Let us cut out the stupidity and keep them out of harm's way, please.