It’s been nearly two years to the day since Nazem Kadri played his first and only game as a visitor at Scotiabank Arena, his grand return after the trade that sent him south coming on Dec. 4, 2019.
In all, despite currently working through his third campaign as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, Kadri’s only played a total of two games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club for whom he logged the first decade of his career. He managed two secondary helpers in his first game against his former mates, a 5-3 loss to Toronto across the border at the Pepsi Center. He posted goose eggs in that December 2019 return home.
Wednesday figures to be a different story.
Returning to Scotiabank Arena for the second time, Kadri enters the affair as the fourth-highest scorer in the league. His 27 points through 18 games sit behind only Leon Draisaitl, Alex Ovechkin and Connor McDavid, and above the sum of anyone currently sporting a Leafs logo on their chest.
It’s why the 31-year-old seems at peace with that highly publicized trade that sent him away from his hometown club years ago.
“Obviously when it happened, it was a bit of a bitter situation. But it ended up being a little bit bittersweet,” Kadri said Wednesday, looking back on the trade. “You know, I was put in a great situation coming to the Avalanche and being around a great group of guys. So, of course I was upset — that’s where I wanted to be at the time. But sometimes it can be a blessing in disguise.”
Asked why it didn’t work out in Toronto, after a run that saw him post two 30-goal seasons and amass 357 total points in his 561 games as a Leaf, Kadri simply laughed.
“Why? That’s not a question for me.”
Those familiar with Kadri’s time in blue and white might have a better sense. A pair of post-season suspensions in 2018 and 2019 seemed to contribute to the parting. He added a third to his resume earlier this year during Colorado's run. Even so, Kadri has no plans to take a step back from that line and lose the edge that’s brought him the success he’s found so far, especially with the points accumulating at the rate they are so far this season.
“That’s how I play — I play on the edge, I play intense, I play passionate, emotional. That’s what a lot of people like about me,” he said Wednesday. “So I’m going to continue to do that. Obviously you’ve got to work a little bit smarter, but I think I’ve got a pretty good idea how to do that.”
The goal now is to help pull his club back into a position that would allow him to prove he can be a key factor in the post-season moving forward. The Avalanche currently sit sixth in the Central Division, though just two points out of third. They’ll have a tough assignment in Toronto, who’ve dispensed with early struggles to rattle off 14 wins in their past 16 games.
Colorado isn’t exactly slumping either, though, the Avs having won seven of their past eight. That’s due in no small part to Kadri, who’s piled up 17 points over those eight games. Add that to a 51.6 per cent success rate in the faceoff circle — second-best on the team — and an increase in minutes as the club’s managed the absence of star pivot Nathan MacKinnon over those past eight tilts, and it’s clear Kadri’s found something in Colorado.
And after all the tumult that came with his tenure and exit from Toronto, he isn’t taking it for granted.
“Just maturity,” he said Wednesday when asked how he’s changed since his Maple Leafs days. “I think as you get older, you start to really become grateful and appreciative for everything you have, and this opportunity, that I’m getting to play in the best league in the world with some great players. I’ve dedicated my life around this sport so, you know, I think it’s just part of growing up.”
Watch Kadri’s Avalanche take on the Maple Leafs Wednesday night on Sportsnet Ontario and SN Now, with puck drop scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.