TORONTO – Nazem Kadri was 25 when he finally saw the light. The moment of truth arrived belatedly, after a costly stretch where he was reprimanded for making a throat-slashing gesture, fined twice for diving and had his season ended four games early after cross-checking an opponent in the head.
He was much older than Matthew Tkachuk is today, and had crossed the line more often than the precocious Calgary Flames winger.
But he doesn’t think the 19-year-old should wait any longer before cleaning up his act.
"Yeah, ‘wake up,’" Kadri said Friday, when asked if he had any advice for Tkachuk. "I went through the same thing so I understand what he’s going through. There comes a time where you’ve just got to mature; you can still play on the edge and play on that fine line, but you can’t be stupid.
"And that was just stupid."
The "that" in this case was Tkachuk’s third suspension in a 103-game NHL career – a one-gamer for jabbing Toronto Maple Leafs winger Matt Martin with his stick earlier this week while standing on the player’s bench.
What made the play so senseless in Kadri’s eyes was that it didn’t come in the heat of battle. It also bore a striking resemblance to Tkachuk’s previous suspension, when he got dinged for one game last month when he jabbed Luke Witkowski after the Detroit Red Wings player had already left the ice surface.
"It’s all emotional," said Kadri. "[On Wednesday] I just saw Marty in a scrum there – I’m not sure if he hit somebody or he got hit – obviously [Tkachuk] wasn’t feeling what was going on. But that’s an automatic no-no. I mean between that and poking that guy in Detroit going off the ice, like that stuff’s just totally unnecessary.
"It’s not like it happens if you catch someone coming across the middle and you hit him in the head and you’re already committed to the hit. You know, things happen so fast. Like that kind of stuff, there’s just no excuse for."
Youth may not be an excuse, but it’s certainly helps explain the brain cramps.
The Flames had Brad Treliving meet the media alongside Tkachuk on Thursday night, and the general manager rightly pointed out that we’re dealing with a teenager: "I’d hate for us to go back in time and figure out some of the stuff I did at 19."
The hard-nosed qualities that made Kadri and Tkachuk top-10 draft picks are also what cause them to go over the edge from time to time. Both are elite at goading opponents into taking penalties – Tkachuk is currently tied for first in that category while Kadri is 10th, according to naturalstattrick.com – and pride themselves on playing with an edge.
The positive aspects of that style of game should be on display this weekend with Toronto visiting Pittsburgh on Saturday and hosting Edmonton on Sunday – putting Kadri in position to agitate Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid on back-to-back nights.
Now 27, he has shown a lot of maturity while growing into Mike Babcock’s favoured shutdown centre. It’s been more than a year since he was in the middle of a controversial incident.
"He’s getting better, I have to agree with that," said teammate Leo Komarov.
It’s likely not a coincidence that both Tkachuk and Kadri are products of the London Knights given the type of players the Hunter brothers tend to gravitate towards. In the Ontario Hockey League, they were urged to play hard and on the edge.
"I’ve talked to Mark [Hunter] about him – I was actually talking to him the other day, asking him if he was a good kid, and he said he was," Kadri said of Tkachuk. "He says he’s got some respect and that kind of stuff’s out of his character.
"Those are just young stupid choices and I’m sure he’s going to get it figured out or else he’s going to get the book thrown at him one of these days."
Kadri has plenty of personal experience with that. He was suspended three games for bowling over Minnesota Wild goalie Nicklas Backstrom in 2013 and then got hit with a four-gamer two years later after catching Edmonton’s Matt Fraser with a head shot.
"The one in Edmonton, that was probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done," said Kadri. "That one I felt bad about."
He only truly started to clean up his act after the run of incidents late in the 2015-16 season, which culminated with a four-game suspension for a retaliatory cross-check to the head of Detroit’s Luke Glendening.
Kadri begrudgingly credits the NHL’s department of player safety for getting through to him at that time. It didn’t hurt that he’d surrendered $396,078.78 in fines – a number he’s still stinging about today.
"I’ve never [added it up] personally, but I’ve heard about it," said Kadri. "Yeah, it’s like $400,000 or $500,000. Six figures, boys, so that’s never easy to swallow."
He then took a moment to reflect on the cost of doing business. When you straddle the line between right and wrong, he figures you’re bound to drop some salary before eventually figuring a few things out.
That’s where Tkachuk finds himself on the learning curve.
Kadri’s managed to avoid making any further donations to the players’ emergency assistance fund since signing a $27-million, six-year extension in April 2016, and is no longer considered a repeat offender in the eyes of the league.
"You’ve just got to stop doing stupid s**t," said Kadri. "That’s all. That’s the bottom line."
Nazem Kadri’s history of being disciplined by the NHL:
Nov. 15, 2013: Suspended three games for hitting Minnesota Wild goalie Nicklas Backstrom and forfeited $44,615.37 in salary.
March 18, 2015: Suspended four games for hitting Edmonton Oilers forward Matt Fraser in the head and forfeited $141,463.41 in salary.
Feb. 11, 2016: Fined $5,000 for making a throat-slash gesture to Calgary Flames defenceman Mark Giordano.
April 1, 2016: Fined $5,000 for two diving offences.
April 4, 2016: Suspended four games for cross-checking Detroit Red Wings forward Luke Glendening in the head and forfeited $200,000 in salary.