BUFFALO, N.Y. — Thrown out of the game for his hit in Mikael Granlund, Nazem Kadri watched helplessly as the Toronto Maple Leafs went through overtime and lost to the Minnesota Wild in a shootout.
He figured that was punishment enough.
Instead, the NHL suspended Kadri for the next three games for his other transgression, an elbow to the head of Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom, putting the Leafs at a severe disadvantage without their top three centres.
“That’s really the most disappointing part is knowing that we’re short some guys and really I can’t do anything to help but just play the waiting game right now,” Kadri said Friday afternoon. “We got some good depth and we can have guys come in and fill in for the mean time and do their roles.”
Tyler Bozak (hamstring) and Dave Bolland (severed tendon in ankle) being out indefinitely already forced the Leafs to move winger James van Riemsdyk to centre and led to the signing of veteran Jerred Smithson. Trevor Smith got the call to replace Kadri in the lineup beginning with Friday night’s game at the Buffalo Sabres.
This is a new situation even for seasoned coach Randy Carlyle.
“Coaching brings you experiences and they’re experiences you could never predict,” he said. “You have plan A, B, C and D in the drawer and I think we’re at E and F right now.”
If nothing else, the Leafs were prepared for Kadri to get suspended. The 23-year-old had a phone hearing with the league Thursday, and though he didn’t expect three games, he figured something was coming.
“I’m a pretty honest player. Nothing like that has happened before. I was just trying to go to the net hard, to make a play, and just kind of ran out of real estate and accidentally bumped into him,” Kadri said. “I think on video with all the slow-motion replays and the 25 different angles we had, it does seem a little bit worse.”
It’s hard to imagine the Leafs’ situation down the middle being any worse than it became after Kadri was suspended. Van Riemsdyk continues to centre the top line, while reliable fourth-liner Jay McClement is expected to be on the second.
And Smith, whom the Marlies dropped off in Buffalo on their way home from Thursday night’s game in Cleveland, won’t just get shoved in at the bottom of the lineup.
“We can’t expect Trevor Smith to come up and put him in the fourth line. That’s unfair to him in this situation,” Carlyle said. “When we had other people ahead of him, we had Bozak, we had Bolland, it was a little bit different.”
Bolland and Bozak aren’t walking through that door to the visiting locker room at First Niagara Center, which leaves Jerred Smithson as the fourth-line centre. Smith is more than ready for the opportunity just ahead of Smithson on the depth chart.
“It’s an easy transition for me,” Smith said. “It’s always tough to lose a couple guys at the same position, but with the leadership crew we have here and throughout the organization I think we’ll be all right.”
NOTES — The Leafs sent defenceman John-Michael Liles back to the AHL’s Marlies to make room on the roster for Smith. … Toronto had an optional morning skate Friday in Buffalo before back-to-back games against the Sabres.