EDMONTON — It seems at times like a free for all in Toronto.
Sell, trade, bury. Sell, trade, bury.
Move David Clarkson. High five!
Trade Phil Kessel. Eat some salary, celebrate the culture change.
Make Stephane Robidas disappear. Burn the paper trail.
Deal Dion Phaneuf for a bunch of stuff, a draft pick and a prospect. Talk more about Steven Stamkos.
Hey?!? Has anybody seen Joffrey Lupul around lately?
“Guys are going to get moved. That’s the nature of the business,” shrugged Nazem Kadri on Wednesday. “We’re in that rebuilding phase… It is what it is.”
At this point, almost nobody is safe.
Squint real hard, and visualize the Leafs team that is a future Eastern Conference contender. Can you see either of today’s goalies on that team? A defencemen not named Morgan Rielly or Jake Gardiner?
Among the forwards, will a single one of today’s NHL group remain a Maple Leaf as long as it takes this rebuild to take effect?
If there is one it would be the 25-year-old Kadri. (We’d keep James van Riemsdyk as well.) Yet, not even Kadri is sure on which side of that question he falls.
“Age has a lot to do with it,” Kadri said Wednesday in Edmonton. “If you’re younger, starting to develop, your potential is high, I’m guessing there’s more of a chance for you to stay.
“Hopefully I’m part of the future,” he continued. “I get pretty good vibes. I’m playing as hard as I can every single night. I just play hard. I want to play hard for this team.
“Mike … and Lou (GM Lamoriello) have given me the encouragement to become the player I want to become. I don’t know it all, by any means. I’ve got a lot to learn. But I think with their guidance I can definitely become an impact player.”
On the subject of learning, some of Kadri’s stiffest lessons have been meted out here in Alberta. Last March he served out a three-game team-issued suspension that was levied after he arrived late for a meeting. Then on Tuesday, he made that crass and foolish throat-slashing gesture from the Toronto bench, aimed at Calgary’s Mark Giordano.
“It was a mistake. An emotional reaction,” Kadri admitted on the morning after. “Just a young player making a mistake in a vulnerable position. Just hoping to move on from it.”
Teams will put up with a lot from players they see as part of the future. Case in point: The Calgary Flames and their young stars who took their one-game healthy scratch like champs Tuesday.
What obscures things in Toronto, however, is the praise that had been heaped upon Phaneuf in the weeks before he was dealt away. Phaneuf was lauded up and down before being moved to Ottawa, a classic case of the ol’ pump-and-dump.
Today they’re saying all the right things about Kadri too, and it could all be legit. It just may be that Kadri is that mid-20s second-line centre that head coach Mike Babcock can see working with down the road.
“I think he’s an excellent player. Better than I could ever have thought coming here,” Babcock said of Kadri, who has 11-17-28 in 52 games this season. “He plays hard every night. He’s mean. He gets the puck through the neutral zone, makes plays… I think he’s a real good player.”
Kadri’s numbers are skewed when you look at the cast of wingers the Leafs will ice in Edmonton Thursday. Van Riemsdyk and Lupul are injured as is centre Tyler Bozak. It will be a tough final 30 games for Toronto with a lineup that, on paper, will be second best almost every night.
But Babcock can see beyond that, as any good coach can. Like a game Kadri played in California in January that stuck with the coach.
“When you play head-to-head against the other (team’s) best players, when they get running around the other night in L.A. and you’re running right back, and you’re greasy, I mean I really like it,” Babcock said last month. “He might be the biggest surprise for me. Like I’m almost shocked how good he’s been — and competitive and greasy.”
Competitive, greasy, and still a part of the Maple Leafs.
That’s a rare trifecta for Kadri, a lone survivor in this Toronto lineup, the trade deadline looming.