TORONTO — His wallet is a little lighter and his reputation is now a matter of frequent public debate, but Nazem Kadri is unrepentant.
He’s not going to apologize for how he plays. He’s not going to change. And he’s certainly not going to acknowledge that he may have been guilty of embellishing the three plays in the last two months that earned him $5,000 in fines from the NHL on Friday afternoon.
“I didn’t agree with it, nor did I like it,” said Kadri. “I mean I’ve got to accept it though. That’s just how it is. Pay the fine and move on.”
Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s clear the 25-year-old centre hasn’t quite reached the acceptance stage.
He’s particularly perplexed after being cited for embellishing a play in the March 21 game against Calgary, when he levelled Johnny Gaudreau with a hard legal hit, only to be slashed by Josh Jooris and Gaudreau in response. That knocked Kadri to the ice and saw his stick launch into the air – a reaction he defends because of the pain he was in.
“I looked at that particular play again, and I mean the guy wound up so far his stick was out of the frame – I couldn’t even see it anymore,” said Kadri. “Not to mention the massive welt I had on the back of my leg after that fact. Whoever’s making that decision, I’d like to see them take one of those with no padding and see how it feels.
“I don’t know how I was supposed to react.”
The NHL began a crackdown on diving last season by issuing publicly announced fines for repeat offenders. Members of the NHL’s hockey operations department review flagged plays on a weekly basis and if a majority believe there’s embellishment, the player is first issued a private warning.
Each subsequent offence carries a fine that increases in value – with Kadri now in Stage 3 of the program. Should he catch their attention again, the next fine will cost him $4,000 and Leafs coach Mike Babcock $2,000.
Still, Kadri isn’t worried that he’s fallen in the bad books of the man dispensing his minutes: “From what I understand he loves the way I play and how hard I work.”
It’s clear, however, that he’s earning a reputation among referees and rival teams.
Kadri has drawn considerably more penalties than any other NHL player over the last three seasons – tying for second in 2013-14 and leading each of the two years since. Entering play Saturday, he’d drawn 12 more penalties than the next best player, Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson, according to war-on-ice.com.
And while it’s something he takes pride in, there’s a delicate line to walk. The difference in Kadri’s eyes is that he doesn’t invent penalties with his reactions, rather than drawing attention to incidents where he’s been fouled.
“Diving and making something a little more obvious is two different things,” said Kadri. “You don’t want to be labelled (as a diver). Obviously I play hard and I play with grit. That’s not going to change the way I play.”
It’s reached a point where Babcock believes referees are now reluctant to call penalties when Kadri is on the receiving end – he said as much following a loss to Boston last Saturday – but he isn’t urging the player to change his behaviour.
The coach has come to like the level of competitiveness Kadri exhibits during games.
“I’d have the puck like he has – he has good edges, he draws lots of penalties – you don’t have to embellish anything,” said Babcock.
The other infractions he was cited for came in a March 12 game in Ottawa, when Kadri went down easily after getting tangled up with Chris Neil on a play where no penalty was called; and for a Feb. 4 game against New Jersey when Adam Henrique got his arms up on the Leafs player and took an interference penalty.
“I just felt kind of an elbow in the face area,” Kadri explained. “Hit me right in the nose, I remember that. I went down. Obviously an elbow to the face doesn’t feel great either.”
All of the recent discussion about how he plays hasn’t slowed him down any, with Kadri notching his third career hat trick this week in Florida and having a four-point night in a recent win over Anaheim. He leads the team with 44 points.
When Kadri met reporters before Saturday’s game against Detroit, he did so with a shiner in his right eye. That was courtesy of a gloved punch from Johan Larsson late in Thursday’s loss to Buffalo.
“I guess this was a dive too,” he said. “I’m not quite sure.”