The first question you always ask in these situations is, “Okay, what don’t we know?”
The moment Peter Horachek referenced Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov (without specifically naming them) on Monday, you knew the Nazem Kadri story was just beginning. The Predators forwards were suspended during the 2012 playoffs for breaking curfew in Arizona. You don’t bring up those names without purpose.
Brendan Shanahan brought down the hammer on Wednesday, extending Kadri’s internal suspension to three games. The number is not arbitrary. During Shanahan’s rookie season (1987-88), New Jersey uberboss Lou Lamoriello suspended him three games for lateness. The Hall of Famer never forgot it. He referenced it when making the announcement.
The difference is Shanahan was 19. Kadri is 24.
It is a crucial time for this player and this franchise. My belief is this: The Maple Leafs want him here. They want Nazem Kadri to be part of the rebuild.
Only Phil Kessel plays more at even strength than he does, by one second per game. His 29 points in those situations is tied for second on the club, one behind James van Riemsdyk. You can’t win without players who produce at even strength.
In this annus horribilis, Kadri is one of the few who has lived up to his on-ice potential.
More importantly, the Maple Leafs are not exactly overflowing with top-six forward prospects of Kadri’s skill at any level of their organization — especially at centre. At times over the years, they’ve discussed the possibility of trading him (especially in the more frustrating moments), but my information is they’ve always calmed down and said, “Unless we trade for exactly the same thing, how are we helping ourselves?”
Again, though, it comes back to, “What don’t we know?”
Well, thanks to Horachek and Shanahan, we know there’s a history. We know it’s serious enough to be compared to two players who broke curfew in a playoff series. It’s a guarantee that other teams already hear the whispers. Players talk. Executives talk. This stuff gets around.
When teams are reluctant to financially reward their own players, others ask, “Why?”
Joffrey Lupul admitted Monday he was once benched for a game while with Anaheim under similar circumstances, but no one knew.
Last night, the Dallas Stars sat Cody Eakin for disciplinary reasons in Philadelphia. Lindy Ruff and Jim Nill declined further comment, saying it was dealt with internally. Barely a peep. Eakin should send a gift basket.
One coach texted, “This happens more often than you think. The coaches are constantly trying to protect the players, but also have accountability… which is a very, very hard balance.”
They’ve spent a lot effort on Kadri. Ron Wilson would never comment about it, but players used to say he would constantly meet privately with him, trying to explain the opportunity he had to be successful in Toronto if he took on- and off-ice work more seriously. Dallas Eakins was harder on him in the AHL than any other player, for the same reason.
Now, it is time for a new contract, with Kadri two years away from unrestricted free agency. Toronto, feeling burned by its long-term investments, made below-market attempts to keep Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik. There is reluctance with Jonathan Bernier.
The Maple Leafs want to commit to Kadri. They know his skill, his value and his potential. Instead of protecting him, they are throwing it all out there.
It is an unusual and risky move.
But, in their eyes, three different management teams and three different coaches tried softer, quieter approaches.
So out comes the hard truth.
They are telling the world they don’t trust him — yet. And they are also making sure everyone understands why.