Those who follow this site know that my preference was for the Leafs to have not only sent young Kadri down to the AHL after camp this past October, but to let him play there for a good long while to simply develop naturally.
In a classic case of desperation decision-making, when the team was struggling to score goals a few weeks ago, out went the call for Kadri. I wrote at the time that the call-up was premature and that the Leafs would be loathe to send him back down to the Marlies—because to do so would be an admission of a serious miscalculation of sorts, perhaps on several levels.
Nonetheless, here we are. Kadri is indeed back with the Marlies. (And as an aside, didn’t the Leafs say, just within the last few days when asked directly about him, that Kadri was not going back down? This was just supposed to be the Stamkos sit, watch, learn and get stronger detour.)
Let’s be honest. The Leaf brass certainly won’t admit it, but they were hoping Kadri would be ready to take on a significant role out of training camp this past September/October. When that didn’t pan out, they were able to explain, under some duress, that the young center needed a bit more time to work on some things. Burke went to some lengths to say he had done the very same thing with other players, when he was GM in
, for example. Anaheim
Those who follow the Marlies more closely than I suggested Kadri was indeed making strides in his relatively short time there.
But as the NHL season reaches the half way point (the Leafs play their 38th game Thursday night), Kadri now finds himself back down in the AHL. In and of itself, that should not be a big deal. This happens quite often with young guys. (I’m guessing Canuck fans were anticipating that former junior star Cody Hodgson would have had an impact by now, though their team circumstance is obviously very different from Toronto's.) In fact, he could be back up at some point this season, depending, I would imagine, on injuries and related roster circumstances with the big club.
But here are some of the nagging questions for Leaf observers:
- Is this just another blip or has Kadri shown a major flaw that the Leafs just don’t like?
- Is this young man (as I suspect) a victim of being over-coached when what he really needs is to be allowed to just play hockey?
- Was he simply one goal away from a jolt of much-needed confidence?How realistic was it to expect a 20 year-old to be the guy to help turn around their offensive fortunes?
- Why wasn’t he allowed to develop more with the Marlies in the first place, rather than rush his progression? Did Leaf management really believe the team was only one scorer/playmaker away from being a playoff team?
- How will Kadri react to what amounts to a third demotion—2009 training camp back to London; training camp this past fall and being sent to the Marlies; and now…?
- Long-term, will all this be helpful for his development?
- Have the Leafs (somewhat, at least) lost faith in him?
It’s funny. We all see those annoying ads the Leafs run about “every game is a try-out” and “we aren’t in the trading business; we’re in the player development business…”. Yet, I have to wonder if, for all the brain power in the Leaf front office— and there’s lot of it with Burke, Nonis, Poulin and many others, including all those who scouted Kadri for years— they have really miscalculated this one.
It just feels like the whole Kadri thing has been mishandled from the get-go. Was he the guy they really wanted in the draft? Why the unrealistic expectations? (It’s not just the fans who have pushed this one;
said things before this season ever began, dating back to the summer, actually, that gave the impression this guy was ready to help.) Wilson
As good a management team as this group is, they aren’t perfect. They certainly never expected last year’s team would end up with the second-worst record in all of hockey and have to forfeit the second overall draft choice. That was a bad mis-read. Or that they would be life and death to make the playoffs this season, when they have another draft choice headed to the Bruins. Another mis-read.
And here’s another part of the “problem”. When you have (unlike, for example, in the NFL where a Bill Belichick in New England just keeps stockpiling more and more draft picks every year) so few high picks to work with, one guy like Kadri receives a disproportionate amount of attention. And more importantly, expectations just aren’t fair—or realistic.
I mean, he is a talented young player. Really good vision. Makes nice passes. (We said that about Bozak last season, too, I realize.) But it’s not like he was an 80-goal scorer for four years in junior. He doesn’t appear to be that kind of player, at least not yet.
We always hear that young players have to get stronger. And it's true. But we were told often in the fall that Kadri had done everything the Leafs asked him to do in that regards over the summer. They knew when they drafted him that he wasn't a physical presence. He was an offensive skill guy. Has something changed in terms of their expectations?
Right now, though, my biggest question has to do with the team’s judgment. They thought this kid wasn’t ready in early October. Then after only 14 games of minor pro experience, he was ready? And ready to be a first-liner, which is how they first plugged him into the line-up, as a winger (not his position)? Then later he was used for a time as a fourth-liner. Center, wing. First line, fourth line.
Now, after 17 games with the Leafs and some flashes of really nice play in his early days, he’s not ready (again)?
So, he's to blame?
To be clear, I am neither on any Kadri bandwagon, nor thinking that he can't play. He is 20 and has plenty of time to develop. But another mis-read by the Leaf brass should not be dropped only at his feet. If he wasn't fully ready to be called up, he should never have been brought up in the first place- regardless of how desperate the team was for goal-scoring.
Now, he faces yet another letdown, and management can put it on him, saying he has to "get stronger".
I know the Leafs are in the player development business. I’d just like to know what that means—and that they know what that really means.