Nazem Kadri has spent the 2021-22 season letting his remarkable performance on the ice speak for itself.
But when it comes to playoff hockey, the Colorado Avalanche forward believes he has some explaining to do – particularly when it comes to last spring’s incident against the St. Louis Blues.
Kadri was suspended eight games for an illegal check to the head against Blues defenceman Justin Faulk in Game 2 of Colorado’s first-round series. The suspension saw him miss the rest of the series against St. Louis (a sweep by the Avalanche) as well as the entire second-round battle against the Golden Knights, which ended in elimination in Game 6.
He opened up about the incident, and the aftermath, in a piece published in The Players’ Tribune Wednesday.
“I hate letting people down, I really do,” he wrote. “And when I looked up from the ice and saw Justin lying there … I knew what was coming. I knew. When I was sitting in the penalty box, my mind was just spinning. I was frustrated with myself, with the situation. I wanted to be anywhere else. It was a bang-bang play and I made a mistake. I’m never trying to hurt anyone out there. I know people might not want to hear any of this, or they’ve already made their minds up about me. I get that.”
Kadri said he didn’t sleep for a week straight after the incident.
“I watched us struggle in the next round against Vegas, and it killed me. At night I was anxious, I was restless. I wanted to be out there. I live for playoff hockey,” he said. “I sat at home and watched us lose our second-round series.”
Compounding his emotion – and the reaction from the hockey world – was the fact this wasn’t the first time Kadri had been suspended in the playoffs. While with the Maple Leafs, he was suspended in back-to-back first-round series against the Boston Bruins, first in 2018 for boarding Tommy Wingels (three games), and then a year later a dangerous crosscheck to the head of Jake DeBrusk saw him sidelined the remainder of the 2019 series.
“When I hit DeBrusk in Boston, I never thought that would be the last time I’d wear a Leafs jersey,” wrote Kadri. “I think about that moment from time to time because, yeah, I wish my stick hadn’t got that high — but that play? That’s who I am. I saw a cheap hit on one of our leaders, and that doesn’t get to happen on a team I play for. I’ll always stand up for our guys. But I crossed a line — again — and I let our guys down. And I can see now that, at the end of the day, it was time for a fresh start.”
Kadri was traded to Colorado that off-season in a deal that brought Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot to Toronto, and the fresh start proved fruitful. He put up solid numbers in his first two seasons with the Avalanche and was excellent in his first playoff run with Colorado in 2020. He tallied nine goals and nine assists through 15 games in the bubble – success he’ll look to build on this spring with a Colorado club that’s a favourite to win it all.
Nothing compared to the success he’s had this year, though. The 31-year-old pending UFA scored 28 goals and a put up personal bests in assists (59) and points (87) to help lead the Avalanche to the top of the Western Conference.
“That part of my game that walks the line, it’ll always be there. It’s how I got here. It’s how I proved to Brian Burke that I could play in this league,” he said. “But I know I have to adapt too, I have to mature. It’s something I work on all the time.
“I think I’ve shown that this year.”
Kadri and the Avalanche started their post-season with a dominant effort against the Nashville Predators Tuesday night and will look to go up 2-0 when they meet again Thursday.