I have written a few of these over the years. The first was for Cody Franson, partly because I found his nickname “Fruit Cup” amusing and tried to find out if there was a story behind it. I wrote one for James van Riemsdyk too. That was out of pure love, of course. I also recently wrote one for Mikhail Grabovskiy. because how could you not do that for him at his too soon retirement from hockey? All of those were purely written for fun. Empty Calories.
This one is different.
“I was a die-hard Habs fan growing up. Today I found a new favourite team.” - Kadri after the Draft in June 2009
Nazem Kadri isn’t just another Maple Leafs player who came and is now leaving. He shouldn’t be remembered only as an “asset” sold off to acquire another one which is presently more useful. Kadri’s value to Leafs fans can’t be captured by the sum of the components of a trade, a stats sheet, or any graph of his gameplay.
Kadri was more to us than the sum of his ten seasons with the team. There’s likely many young Maple Leafs fans who barely even remember a time before he was on the ice every night. He helped define an entire generation of this team.
Now it’s time to remember, and say goodbye.
“Is that the kid you want? We’re gonna take him.”
The story of Kadri and the Leafs starts way back at the 2009 NHL Draft in Montreal. It was Brian Burke’s first Draft as GM of the Leafs. For whatever reason lost to time he was mic’d up for this moment, and it was a gem of him dunking on Senators GM Brian Murray.
The first thing we learned about Kadri from his first post-draft interview was that he was never actually a Leafs fan. “I was a die hard Habs fan growing up. Today I found a new favourite team.” Many Maple Leafs fans found a new favourite player on that day too.
While Kadri appeared in a game on February 8, 2010, it wasn’t until the following season where Kadri spent a long stretch with the big club. He continued with the Marlies through the next two seasons and during the lockout in 2012. Before becoming a Maple Leaf full time after that.
A Rocky Road
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Kadri in the organization.
The first moment this was brought to public attention was in 2012 when Kadri showed up at Marlies training camp and Dallas Eakins snarked on his body fat percentage, singling him out and calling it “unacceptable” in a media scrum. It blew up the way these things do in Toronto, and was given extra coverage as there was nothing else to talk about because of the NHL lockout. However, it still remained that these comments aren’t made in front of the press on a whim. It was a stick that was used after the carrots had stopped working.
There are escalating levels of discipline in a hockey organization. As problems continue or grow, that discipline changes from being behind closed doors, to out in public. In 2015 the Leafs decided they had to go with the nuclear option.
Brendan Shanahan himself held a Kadri specific press conference and read the riot act, suspended him from the team, and used language like “there’s a history here” and “there comes a point where you’ve got to grow up,” implying a long term problem had reached their breaking point.
Kadri’s public scolding by the top levels of the organisation required a public apology in turn, but more than that, it required proof he was committed. He gave us that proof in the past few seasons, and we’ve never again heard a peep from management about his conditioning.
A Fan Favourite
Kadri scored goals. 161 of them in the regular season with the Leafs to be exact. You make a lot of fans by scoring goals, especially when you score three in one game!
There is a much more famous hat-trick that was scored by Kadri. It’s one of my personal favourite moments and was at a game in Ottawa which featured the lovable “Angry Sens Fan.”
This game was on March 2013 during the shortened lockout season. Kadri scored his 15th, 16th, and 17th goal of the season in a 4-0 rout of the Senators in Ottawa broadcast on Hockey Night in Canada. This GIF just has everything. From the synchronized arrival of Kulemin and Gunnarsson, to the Angry Sens Fan spilling his beer all over the woman beside him who appears to be torn between telling him to stop and sit down vs. pretending she is not associated with him at all.
The sad part is he can no longer regularly piss off the Ottawa Senators and their fans.
And the game ended with this famous moment.
He was also tough out there on the ice, not afraid to take on even the big guys in the league. And he would win them too.
Then there was that time he ripped out a piece of Joe Thornton’s beard.
We here at PPP would be remiss if we didn’t mention that Naz has a famous cat! Sometimes Jazzy got more media attention than the play on the ice.
Good Luck, Naz
It’s unfortunate the final game memory we have of Kadri will be what resulted in a suspension from the balance of the first round of the playoffs. That kind of sour note will always hang out there, but it hardly defines his ten year span with the Maple Leafs.
What we all really want is not only the Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup, but we want the Maple Leafs we love to win the Stanley Cup as Maple Leafs. That chance may now be gone for Nazem Kadri, but our love for him in the blue and white never will be.
The next time the Leafs will see Kadri is on Saturday November 23rd, when they make a road-trip through the US South-West. He will return to Toronto for a game on Wednesday December 4th.