TORONTO – Discipline. Full trade protection. A filter.
There are a few things you could justly accuse Nazem Kadri of lacking.
Confidence is not one of them.
When Brian Burke, the man who drafted Kadri to the Toronto Maple Leafs, estimated Wednesday morning that the player would place a bounty of $10,000 for the Colorado Avalanche to come out victorious in his return game, we knew we had to follow up.
“10K on the board tonight — over or under?” we asked Kadri, as he stood, bizarrely, in Scotiabank Arena’s crowded visitors’ room.
“Might be a little bit over,” Kadri replied, flashing that familiar devilish smile Leafs Nation knows oh so well.
“I might have to put a couple thousand for game-winner and give myself a chance to get some money back.”
The logo on the front and the number on the back have changed, but Kadri’s swagger remains forever intact.
“He’ll be wired up for this,” Burke told Sportsnet’s Lead Off.
“For a game like tonight, different Colorado players will write a sum of money on the whiteboard: ‘This is what I’ll pay to the party fund [if we win].’ Guys will say a grand or $1,500. 10 grand is a lot of money, and Naz will have 10 grand.”
After Kadri’s final season as a Maple Leaf famously concluded from him watching, suspended, from afar as the Boston Bruins devoured hope, he believed his recklessness would not hurt his future with the club, then later nixed a trade to Calgary in hopes of sticking here.
Alas, the Avalanche weren’t on his no-trade list, and the longest-tenured Leaf became GM Kyle Dubas’s bait to land the organization’s long-sought-after right-shot, puck-moving defenceman, Tyson Barrie.
So, naturally Wednesday feels unnatural for Kadri, who actually got lost navigating his way from the Avs’ room to the ice surface for morning skate.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) December 4, 2019
“Thought I needed a map or something. A bit weird, but what are you going to do?” Kadri said. “Part of me wants it just over and done with, and another part of me wants to just enjoy the moment because obviously I worked hard for it.”
While Barrie has struggled to find his footing in Toronto, Kadri’s move to Denver’s high altitude has been low-stress.
The 29-year-old has fit in seamlessly as the Avs’ long-coveted true second-line centre, racking up 10 goals and 10 assists for a legitimate Stanley Cup threat. His 59 per cent success rate in the face-off circle is a career best. His ice time (17:52) hasn’t been this high in four years, and he’s firing the puck with much more frequency and accuracy than he did last season.
“One thing I really like about him is his competitiveness and sort of the edge that plays with and how well-rounded he is for us,” says coach Jared Bednar, who mentions Kadri among his leadership core.
“He’s chipping in a bunch of different ways, and his experience and his leadership and how he’s passed it on to our young guys has been great.”
That includes Calder Trophy front-runner Cale Makar, who lights up when Kadri’s name is brought up.
“He’s just an awesome guy. He’s really outgoing. He’s a good leader,” Makar says. “He’ll step up any of those big situations, and he’ll always pull through. So, he’s a good confidence guy.”
The timing of this Leafs-Avs match feels ripe for a big bet on burgundy.
Kadri’s former team arrived back in town late last night after a white-flag loss in Philadelphia and will call on a tired Frederik Andersen.
Kadri’s current team is in the throes of a three-game heater in which the Avs have averaged more than five goals a night. They’ve been resting and waiting since Saturday, when they dismantled the Chicago Blackhawks 7-3 in Mikko Rantanen’s return game. (Kadri scored twice in that one.)
Whereas the Leafs’ competitiveness was questioned publicly Tuesday by Andersen and Auston Matthews, fast and fierce Colorado has persevered through a myriad of injuries to key players, picking up steam as it chugs along.
Burke accurately described Kadri as “a warrior on a team devoid of warriors” when he was in Toronto, and Kadri allowed himself to reminisce a little Wednesday.
He said he’d never forget the images of Maple Leafs Square going berserk during his four playoff series here. He feels privileged to have been part of snow-globe history at the Big House at the 2014 Winter Classic.
And he can see both sides of coach Mike Babcock’s tactics to mould him into a harder-working, defensively responsible pivot, crediting the tactician for his attention to detail and game-planning against specific opposition.
Until Babcock arrived on the scene, remember, it would be nearly laughable to consider Kadri a shutdown specialist.
“Babs did what he did. He tried to get the group to the best position as possible. I think he deserves a little bit of credit, you know, even though I think it was maybe time for a change over there to spark the team,” Kadri said.
Kadri was asked if Babcock crossed lines in order to motivate, the most extreme public example being Mitch Marner’s list.
“Sometimes,” Kadri replied. “Babs is a good coach. Sometimes his methods, I think, weren’t the greatest. So that’s just the fine line between players and coaches. I think as a coach, you have to take that responsibility to kind of have your players’ backs and that’s when you get the best from them.”
Gauging by early returns, the Avalanche are getting the best out of Kadri. Just as a cool $12,000 should help Kadri get the best out of them Wednesday night.
That said, the Maple Leafs will try to soften up their wired-up opponent with a video tribute.
“It should be pretty emotional,” Kadri said. “I definitely miss home, for sure.”