Nazem Kadri made two textbook hits to the heads of Minnesota Wild players last Wednesday. On Thursday, he was suspended for three games for one of them.
The suspension levied by NHL director of player safety Brendan Shanahan was for the hit Kadri delivered at 7 minutes 7 seconds of the first period to the head of Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom. All Kadri received at the time was a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, although Backstrom was forced to leave the game with a head injury shortly after the penalty expired. This may have played into Shanahan's decision.
In the third period, Kadri drove Wild forward Mikael Granlund's head into the glass from behind with his elbow. He left his feet to make the check, which is a major no-no in the NHL's eyes. But Granlund was not seriously injured and Kadri received a match penalty – which comes with a five-minute major penalty and expulsion from the game – so Shanahan took no further action.
Kadri, 23, is a first-time offender, as he had never faced Shanahan before for supplemental discipline. It is worth wondering if Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle's wish that his fourth-year centre would add a physical edge to his game made Kadri put a little too much into his hits. He now gets three games, starting with a home-and-home series with the Buffalo Sabres on Friday and Saturday, to figure out where to draw the line in that regard.
This also leaves Carlyle and the Leafs in a tough spot. They are now without their top three centres, as Tyler Bozak (hamstring) and Dave Bolland (foot) are both on the long-term injured reserve list. Kadri will be able to play again on Nov. 21, when the Leafs meet the New York Islanders in Toronto, the same day Bozak is eligible to come off the injured list.
On the Backstrom hit, Kadri skated into the Wild crease and flattened the goaltender. Kadri had his arm up when he bowled Backstrom over, striking him on the goal mask with his forearm. Backstrom fell backward and struck the back of his head on the ice. In explaining his decision, Shanahan noted Kadri was watching for a pass from teammate Joffrey Lupul and then deflected the puck between Backstrom's legs before hitting him, which was convincing evidence he did not go to the net solely to flatten Backstrom.
"While we accept Kadri's assertion [the hit] is not intentional, he still bears the responsibility for avoiding or at least making a better attempt to avoid or minimize contact such as this. He does neither," Shanahan said.
Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser, who is now a broadcaster for TSN, called Kadri's hit on Granlund "unnecessary, senseless, irresponsible, reckless, and dangerous for starters," in a commentary on TSN.ca. Fraser also wrote Kadri should have been given a match penalty for the earlier hit on Backstrom.
(Here is where you have to feel for rookie referee Trent Knorr, who was calling his first NHL game. He made the call on the Backstrom hit.)
Like Shanahan, Fraser noted the onus is on players to do everything they can to avoid or minimize a collision with a goaltender. Fraser wrote Kadri should have received a match penalty under NHL rule 48, which deals with hits to the head because: "Beyond zero attempt by Nazem Kadri to avoid contact with Niklas Backstrom, he generated what appears to have been excessive force with his elbow/forearm directly to the facemask of Backstrom, causing the goalie to crash the back of his head onto the ice."
The Leafs will consider a number of options to replace Kadri, according to Carlyle. Among them are calling up a forward from the Toronto Marlies farm team, such as centre Trevor Smith, or moving defenceman Jake Gardiner to centre. He played the position before switching to defence in college.
The Leafs are at the 23-man roster limit, so if a Marlie is called up, someone will have to be sent down, likely veteran defenceman John-Michael Liles.
Kadri will lose $44,615.37 (U.S.) in salary during his suspension.
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