Nazem Kadri has come a long ways from his Dallas Eakins doghouse days.
Three seasons after Eakins publicly called out the young centre’s eating habits while both were with the Toronto Marlies, Kadri is now entrenched as a top-six forward under Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock.
His conditioning and his two-way game are now rarely called into question.
Eakins, now coaching the AHL’s San Diego Gulls (17-14-0-1), spoke to Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star on the weekend about a tactic he used to encourage a still-developing Kadri.
The coach met with Kadri's father, Sam, and asked if he could call him if Nazem start slacking. Sam agreed. Then Eakins called Kadri into his office.
“Naz is an awesome kid. He walks in with a big smile. ‘How you doing, coach?’ I said, ‘Good.’ I said. ‘You know why I’m feeling so good, Naz?’ He goes, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘I made a new friend.’ And now he’s looking at me like I’m nuts,” Eakins explained.
Eakins showed Kadri his cellphone, alight with Sam's contact information.
“I said, ‘Look. I’ve got his number right here. That’s my new friend.’ And Naz looked at my phone and his face just went blank. And he just went, ‘Aw, man.’ So I go, ‘Now you either stay with the program here — you’re going in the right direction — but if you fall off, I’m calling your dad.’ And he’s like, ‘I’m in, coach. I’m in.’ And after that he really got going.”
Kadri believes Eakins' bold strategy worked, and his former coach still checks in on him from time to time.
"He knew that my father meant a lot to me. In order to get through to me, he felt like he needed to get my dad on board," Kadri said. “He was hard on me. But at the same time, I respect guys like that.”
Eakins' interview with the Star touches on a number of interesting topics. (Read it in full here.) Here are some of the highlights.
On trying to ditch youth as an excuse for the struggling Oilers: “I look back and I’d like to slap myself, going, ‘You tried to speed it up.'... I was trying to put the roof on the house and we hadn’t put up the framing yet. We just went too fast. And the group wasn’t ready to go too fast. They were immature. And they are going to be an excellent hockey team there in a couple of years.”
On his desire to return to the NHL coaching ranks: “That time will present itself when it presents itself. The only thing I can control is come in every day and do my job, coach these guys, develop a staff. The rush to get back to the NHL? It’s impossible to be in a rush. It will come. And the only way it’s going to come is if I get every day checked off from now until that opportunity presents itself. You’ve got to be comfortable with the process.”
On the support he received from a former boss after the Oilers firing: “For the first 12 days, Brian Burke either called me or he texted me, every day. And then after that for the next two or three weeks, he checked in on me every two or three days. And then after that, for the next two or three weeks, he checked on me once a week.... Burkie was incredible.”