The traditional dressing room clear-out for losing teams is often a time for excuses. Nazem Kadri showed up for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ final day with a fistful of them.
Then again, he had 12 days to dream them up. The Leafs kept Kadri away from the media when he was suspended after cross-checking Boston Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk on the head during Game 2 of their playoff series on April 13. It was the second consecutive year Kadri drew a series-long suspension for attacking a Bruins player in the playoffs, and it was a major reason for the Leafs’ defeat because it robbed them of their depth at forward.
“Obviously I wasn’t intending to get him in the face,” Kadri said for starters on Thursday. The only thing obvious about the play was that Kadri cannot control himself. But that was just his opening salvo.
“That’s completely not my character. Had that been the case, there would have been more substantial damage there,” Kadri said and then moved into an old favourite, the I-was-just-sticking-up-for-a-teammate routine. He was avenging DeBrusk’s earlier hit on Leafs winger Patrick Marleau. He didn’t mention that he just might have been simmering over a knee-on-knee hit between him and DeBrusk earlier in the game. Then he followed up on the I-didn’t-mean-to-hit-him-there gambit.
“I just was unsatisfied with the hit on Patty. I felt like it was a bit of a dangerous play,” Kadri said. “I just wanted to go give him one of those shots on the arm, just kind of let him know that wasn’t okay with us. Unfortunately, I caught him high and I’ve got to be accountable for that. I’ve got to have control of my stick. That’s definitely a bit of a boneheaded play, but like I said we were still in the game.”
Yes, the Leafs were still in the game at that point, even though it was getting late. Kadri himself scored to cut the Bruins’ lead to 3-1, but once he drew a major penalty any comeback hopes were lost.
Kadri did admit he was sorry about the cross-check when he was asked directly. But it came across as sincere as head coach Mike Babcock’s thank-you to the media for their coverage this season.
“Of course I regret it,” Kadri said, who then stressed how hard it was on him personally. “It was tough to watch. I’ve never been so anxious and stressed out in my life in watching these games here.
“Like I said, it was a bit of a different play. Things happen quick out there. It’s not my intent to hurt people or to injure. I’m always going to be that guy who tries to stand up for his teammates. Unfortunately that did not go the way I envisioned.”
The second successive suspension puts Kadri’s future as a Maple Leaf in doubt. Neither general manager Kyle Dubas nor Babcock said unconditionally they would be willing to live with Kadri’s tendency to snap in the playoffs. Dubas spoke about how important Kadri’s blend of skill and grit was to the team and how he is willing to help him change his ways. There were lots of buts in the air, though, both spoken and unspoken.
“Yes, he likes to defend his teammates and he plays hard and everything of that nature, but we need him to be available,” Dubas said. “As you see, the suspension goes from three games last year to five games, and if he continues with that sort of behaviour, the suspensions aren’t going to decrease.”
Kadri, though, doesn’t see this as something to worry about. “I’m not concerned at all, really. The staff and this organization know what I do for my teammates,” he said.
He did say he plans to try to learn the difference between doing something to your teammates as opposed to doing something for them. However, he did not want to share any details.
Not all of the humour on clear-out day was unintentional. Defenceman Ron Hainsey, 38, got a good line off when he was asked about his uncertain future as a free agent: “Even if I had a plan, I wouldn’t tell you what it was.” Hainsey liked the line so much he said it three times in a row to reporters.
One player who probably will not be available when training camp starts in September is forward Zach Hyman. It was suspected he played through a significant injury late in the series, and the Leafs announced he will have surgery on Monday for a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The team expects him to be out for at least six months, but Hyman, who said he was hurt in a routine collision with Bruins forward Brad Marchand late in Game 4, begs to disagree. He is hoping to be ready for the start of next season in early October.
“I was able to stand on it, could put pressure on it, could skate on it,” he said of playing with the knee injury. “It’s just dealing with the pain. I was able to skate.”
In other business, both Dubas and Babcock said they have no problems with each other; Dubas fiercely defended defenceman Jake Gardiner, who once again had a bad night in Game 7; and said signing forward Mitch Marner is “priority one” before July 1, when he becomes a restricted free agent. Marner, who is going to command somewhere between US$10-million and US$12-million a year on a long-term contract, said it’s his agent’s job to worry about that, although he wants to be a Maple Leaf.
“Without an answer on Mitch, we’re going to be in a stalemate,” Dubas said. “It is a top priority, because we’re not going to jump around and chew up our cap space we are going to need for Mitch with fringe signings either. It’s important. We just have to get right on it and get it done.”