BOSTON — It won’t take long for the NHL’s Department of Player Safety to write the script for Nazem Kadri’s next suspension video, they merely need to change a couple of words from the one they used to announce his three-game ban during last year’s playoffs.
But Kadri won’t get off so lightly this time around.
In fact, he’s not likely to see another shift in this first-round series against the Boston Bruins, nor should he, given his long history of crossing the line with illegal shots to an opponent’s head.
There’s absolutely no evidence Kadri has learned his lesson or felt contrition. Not after forfeiting nearly $400,000 in salary for his previous on-ice transgressions, and putting Toronto in a significant hole last spring for a dirty hit no more than 10 feet from where he violently cross-checked Jake DeBrusk to the side of the head Saturday night.
If you feel like history keeps repeating itself in these Bruins-Leafs series, you’re not imagining it.
Where things differ this time, is that disciplinarian George Parros offered Kadri an in-person hearing, which leaves the NHL with the option of handing down a suspension of six games or more. The league is not compelled to do so, but the sky’s the limit for how high it can go.
Kadri’s lengthy rap sheet will work against him because the severity of punishment increases for successive violations.
Each of his previous four career suspensions involved a blow to another player’s head — either with his stick, arm or posterior. Tommy Wingels was down in a prone position when Kadri responded to a hit on linemate Mitch Marner in Game 1 of last year’s series by leaping toward the Bruins forward and driving him into the boards.
As part of the video explaining his suspension,here’s what the NHL DoPS said: "While we acknowledge that Wingels makes contract with Marner moments before, players are never permitted to retaliate in an illegal fashion. This is a forceful and illegal hit delivered on a defenceless opponent for the purpose of retribution and message-sending and such plays will not be tolerated."
Fast forward 366 days and here we are again.
Kadri and DeBrusk were going at it right from puck drop in Game 2. They got tangled up early and DeBrusk hit Kadri with a couple of punches, which somehow led to offsetting penalties at 11:12 of the first period.
The Leafs centre grew visibly frustrated with referees Trevor Hanson and Brad Meier, who turned a blind eye to transgressions from both teams, including an elbow from DeBrusk that bloodied Travis Dermott. The heat continued to rise inside TD Garden and the officials couldn’t keep the lid on a boiling pot since they’d lost their whistles.
"It was a physical game," said Leafs coach Mike Babcock. "The referees, the way they reffed the game, let a lot of stuff go, obviously."
One of the few minors given out was a ticky-tack hooking call on Kadri in the second period. When it was killed off, he raced back into the Leafs’ end and was sent flying by DeBrusk after a knee-on-knee hit.
Kadri went straight to the dressing room and wouldn’t return until the third period.
"We thought it was [knee-on-knee]," said Leafs centre John Tavares.
"I thought it was clean," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Looking back on it, shoulder-to-shoulder. Obviously, Kadri stayed down, I mean that’s his prerogative when you get hit."
Toronto clawed back some territory in the final period of a game that was otherwise completely dominated by the Bruins. Kadri even tipped home a Dermott point shot to get the Leafs back to 3-1 down before all hell broke loose.
It happened innocently enough, with DeBrusk driving Patrick Marleau into the rounded glass at the end of Boston’s bench on a clean hit. Kadri skated immediately toward the Bruins player and changed the position of his stick before slamming it into the side of DeBrusk’s helmet, earning a cross-checking major, game misconduct and a whole lot more trouble.
As if the parallels with last year’s incident didn’t look bad enough, Kadri was suspended four games in April 2016 for cross-checking Detroit’s Luke Glendening in the head. There’s a well-established pattern here. The message hasn’t gotten through.
Kadri’s absence will leave a sizeable hole in the Leafs’ lineup, with either Marleau or William Nylander forced to move into the middle to replace him. At least they’ve got Tavares this time around to help Auston Matthews shoulder the most high-leverage assignments against Boston.
But the positive aspects of Kadri’s game — his competitive, agitating side and ability to be a secondary scorer — will be missed dearly.
"Naz is a crucial part of our team," said Tavares.
Still,there was no excuse for his poor decision-making.
Not the spotty refereeing, nor the knee-on-knee hit, nor the fact Boston was clearly trying to send a message by upping its physical play. Had Kadri chosen to cross-check DeBrusk in the shoulder or tried to engage him in a fight, he wouldn’t be facing the longest suspension of his career.
"It’s not easy," Tavares said of turning another cheek. "Luckily [the knee-on-knee] wasn’t serious, but something like that could be very serious."
"In the end, you can’t let that get in the way of what you’re doing," said Babcock. "Playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs isn’t supposed to be easy and it’s worth it."
That’s a satisfaction Kadri won’t experience again soon.