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