Kadri must learn time, place

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - Damien Cox

Le­gal, but un­wise.

Nazem Kadri’s bor­der­line hit on Daniel Sedin in the third pe­riod on Satur­day may have es­caped sanc­tion from the NHL’s de­part­ment of player safety, and for that the Maple Leafs and their cen­tre­man can be pleased, but it was an­other of those mo­ments that make one pause when look­ing at Kadri’s mat­u­ra­tion into a key part of a win­ning team some­where down the line. It makes you won­der about the de­ci­sions he makes in the heat of com­pe­ti­tion.

There was just no rea­son for the hit. Kadri — the “NHL’s most wanted man” ac­cord­ing to the Van­cou­ver Prov­ince on Mon­day — had other op­tions in terms of de­fend­ing, and he chose the one most likely to cause a prob­lem and the one that didn’t pre­vent Sedin from scor­ing on the play.

It caused all kinds of prob­lems his team­mates had to deal with Satur­day night and in Van­cou­ver the me­dia has al­ready started the process of get­ting the hockey pub­lic whipped up into a frenzy for re­venge night Dec. 3.

Gee, when has that ap­proach turned out badly in Van­cou­ver be­fore? The good news is no­body has put a bounty on any­one’s head. Yet.

Mike Bab­cock, it’s worth not­ing, has had to deal with this kind of is­sue be­fore, al­beit in a slightly dif­fer­ent way. For years in Detroit, de­fence­man Nik­las Kron­wall would come fir­ing up the boards and de­liver one of his dev­as­tat­ing butt/hip checks, of­ten in games the Red Wings al­ready had well in hand.

For most coaches, they’d rather have a player they have to rein in some­times, than one they have to coax to play with an edge. Such is the case for Bab­cock with Kadri. Sure, you’d love him to play the hard, clean game of a Ryan O’Reilly, but O’Reilly is a unique player and Kadri is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent per­son­al­ity with high-end skill.

When you’re ask­ing him to play the best play­ers on the other teams hard every night, it can be a dif­fi­cult line to walk some­times. When is it OK to de­liver a dev­as­tat­ing hit, and when isn’t it? Just mo­ments be­fore Kadri’s hit, don’t for­get, Mor­gan Rielly had laid out Jan­nik Hansen with a hit that seemed equally un­nec­es­sary given the Leafs were up by three goals.

Then again, a lit­tle more phys­i­cal­ity out of Rielly wouldn’t hurt. So if you’re Bab­cock, maybe you ac­cept it when­ever it comes. The funny thing, or the pre­dictable thing, was that Kadri’s hit on Sedin over­shad­owed many other as­pects of Toronto’s fifth vic­tory of the sea­son.

There was, for starters, an­other night of ex­cel­lence from fresh­man winger Mitch Marner, who seems to be in the process of mak­ing Tyler Bozak for­get all about Phil Kes­sel. Marner, Wil­liam Ny­lan­der and Aus­ton Matthews also seem to be in the busi­ness of “one-up­ping” each other game af­ter game with feats of of­fen­sive cre­ativ­ity.

The Leafs have re­ceived 33 points from their three rook­ies, plus six more from Nikita Zait­sev. All in all, Toronto rook­ies have con­trib­uted 44 points this sea­son, one less than the rest of the team.

Marner, mean­while, has com­pletely elim­i­nated any pos­si­bil­ity that he won’t stay ex­actly where he is this sea­son. No­body’s talk­ing about him be­ing too small, or not strong enough, or whether all the wiz­ardry he ex­hib­ited in ju­nior hockey will work in the pros.

If not for the Kadri hit and ev­ery­thing else that hap­pened, he would have grabbed all the post-game head­lines af­ter the Van­cou­ver game.

Af­ter the hit, mean­while, Matt Martin be­came very in­volved, prob­a­bly in a way he had not in his first sea­son as a Leaf un­til then. Four years and $10 mil­lion lured him to Toronto, but he left be­hind the NHL’s best known fourth line with Casey Cizikas and Cal Clut­ter­buck on Long Is­land. Early this sea­son, as Bab­cock tried to find a use­ful fourth line com­bi­na­tion, it was easy to get the sense Martin was find­ing his way, look­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties to as­sert him­self in the same way he had with the Is­lan­ders.

With six hits against Van­cou­ver, Martin once again is lead­ing the league in body­check­ing, with 53 hits so far this sea­son. He chal­lenged Van­cou­ver’s Derek Dorsett to a scrap, which Dorsett de­clined, and then was sit­ting on the boards chirp­ing Dorsett as he was es­corted off the ice af­ter opt­ing to fight Leo Ko­marov, who gen­er­ally doesn’t drop the gloves. That en­raged Dorsett, and the Canucks re­ally lost it later in the pe­riod when Martin started pound­ing on five-foot-ten rookie de­fence­man Troy Stecher.

Af­ter it was over there were a lot of ac­cu­sa­tions over who started what and which on-ice crime was truly de­spi­ca­ble. How the cow­ardly Alex Bur­rows es­caped sus­pen­sion for his “ex­cuse me” spear on Reilly de­fies logic.

For Martin, mean­while, it was a game he could re­ally sink his teeth into as he looks for ways to bump his ice time into dou­ble dig­its on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Martin rep­re­sents Leaf mus­cle, but un­like the mus­cle of the Brian Burke years, this is mus­cle that can play to an ef­fec­tive level. The Leafs have been ev­ery­one’s door­mat for sev­eral years and now, with some good things hap­pen­ing, they’re cer­tainly en­ti­tled to start push­ing back and make it clear this isn’t just a team that’s all about some fancy rook­ies.

If the way in which they push back makes fans in other ci­ties un­happy, they’ll live with it. Damien Cox is the co-host of “Prime Time Sports” on Sport­snet 590 The Fan. He spent nearly 30 years cov­er­ing a va­ri­ety of sports for The Star. Fol­low him @DamoSpin.

RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR

Leafs winger Matt Martin drew a crowd, in­clud­ing Van­cou­ver goalie Ryan Miller, when he started throw­ing punches at Canucks rookie de­fence­man Troy Stecher.

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