The Leaf win at home seems a fair result in light of the events of the night before in Pittsburgh. Toronto really should have walked away with two points Tuesday night, but three out of a possible four points in the first two games after the All-Star break—and against a strong Eastern Conference foe—is encouraging.
MacArthur is on one of those little streaks he can go on. Not surprisingly, Grabovski was in on the game’s only goal.
I liked Steckel between Armstrong and Brown. (I’d like the unit even more if they were the fourth line and we had a much stronger third line. Right now, we pretty much have two fourth lines.) Liles moved and carried the puck with confidence. He didn’t miss a beat after an absence due to injury. Phaneuf logged his usual big minutes. It was another game with few penalties taken (and a perfect night killing them). Throw in a Reimer shutout and if it was Thanksgiving, you’d say there is a lot to be thankful for.
And on the Reimer performance (and the questions this will inevitably raise), wouldn’t we rather have two goalies who just might pitch a shutout—or at least play really well—on any given night, than relying on just one guy and hoping?
Given that Kessel has been quiet offensively of late, the fact that the Leafs have won three of their last four, and have earned seven of a possible eight points, speaks to the depth and balance that they appear to have—and will be needed in the weeks ahead.
You know how there are times when you are just baffled by someone’s behavior? Well, in an organizational sense, I am completely baffled by how the Toronto Maple Leafs continue to “handle” Nazem Kadri.
I am neither a Leaf follower who loves the kid (he has talent, for sure) nor do I think the guy is a bum, a waste of a high first-round draft choice. Could he have shown “more” by now? I guess. Is he a disappointment? I don’t think so. I believe he is right about where he should be as a young player who simply needs time (and lots of playing time) to become what he can be.
So does that mean I think the Leafs have done a good job of developing Kadri?
My answer is no.
Look, I understand that the Leafs need experience. They’re an awfully young squad right now and are still “learning to win” as they say. So they need to depend on guys who have been around for a while. And there are a lot of people who will disagree with me on this one. I get it. Some think Burke can do no wrong, that he always knows what’s best and his moves are always perfectly thought-out. (I’m not in that camp, but that’s a discussion for another day…) Others will think that the organization is actually protecting Kadri and nurturing the youngster thoughtfully along the way.
All I know is that this ridiculous, never-ending yo-yo string that he is on has to stop. Whether it leads to a trade, him ultimately demanding a ticket out of town or what, I don’t know, but something has to give. (I’ve said here for ages that Kadri is on the table as far as the Leafs are concerned, that they would absolutely be prepared to move him in a deal to get better a bit sooner…)
I’m well aware of the fact that he won’t even be 22 until next October. Lots of guys develop much later than that and become very productive NHL players—in some cases, stars.
My point is more this: I don’t think the brass has a clue how to utilize this guy. Forget the hopeful-sounding talk (from Burke and later Wilson) in the first year and a bit that Kadri was in the organization. We all knew that he needed to play more junior hockey and he did that very well. No problem. He may have been the only guy in the world who thought he could make the big team at the time.
Last season, though, there was a real discussion that he could/should make the team. But again, despite some impressive pre-season games, he was shipped to the Marlies. Good idea. Management said he needed to get better in all the usual ways. But who was the guy they called up in the fall, just a few short weeks later, when the team couldn’t score goals? You know the answer. He hadn’t really earned the call up, so the meritocracy thing wasn’t being followed. And the reasoning for bringing him up was not the wisest. The 20-year old who wasn't ready a few weeks before was the guy who was going to help their scoring issue?
At first he was a front-line center. Then a third-line winger. Then a guy on the power-play. Then he was a guy back in the minors. (Remember all the talk around “oh, he has to be in our top-six” if he’s going to play here…”. That went out the window during that stay with the big club.)
So yes, it was back to the Marlies, then back up with the Leafs again. I have to wonder why was he recalled in the first place, when all we kept hearing every time he got sent back down was that the young man had too many flaws in his game and needed to get, whatever, you know the lines…bigger, faster, stronger, but not too strong so he doesn’t get slower…
He also needed to cut down on his giveaways, play harder more consistently. Yada yada yada. Every time he went down we were told by Eakins et al that he was doing everything he was been asked to do.
So this season, he made the team (seemingly) out of camp, but got hurt. However, when he was ready to play, he didn’t really have a spot on the big club anymore, so he started the season with the Marlies—where he should have been all of last season to begin with, as I kept saying here at the time.
But, like clockwork, he was called up again this past fall. He showed pretty well, had his moments, but, you guessed it, he was sent back to the farm.
Before you knew it, though, injuries reared their head and he was back (after they had also given Colborne a “shot”). But now with Armstrong returning, we apparently have too many guys who are better than him (and with more punitive contracts), so who gets shuffled back down to the farm? The player they thought would give them a scoring jump-start—more than a season ago.
So while we can watch Kadri with our own eyes, we are left to wonder: what does management and the coaching staff see? Is Kadri getting better? Is he regressing? Still turning the puck over too much?
I’ll say it again. I’m baffled. Those of you who follow this site know what I have said about Kadri: just let him play. Let him make mistakes, let him do what he does best, while of course encouraging him to be a responsible player at both ends of the ice. But this business of his playing with the constant fear that the coaching staff is going to punish him (and trust me, being a healthy scratch or being sent to the AHL is a punishment for a guy who almost everyone, including Burke and Wilson, thought would be a regular in the line-up by now) if makes one too many mistakes is an impossible way to improve, in my mind.
You cannot play at any level—tyke, college or the NHL—if you are afraid to make mistakes. None of us applauds laziness. If a guy is not working hard, that’s a problem. But is that the problem here? Who leveled the biggest hit for the Leafs against the Penguins on Tuesday night, on the road? Kadri, wasn’t it?
My God, if I hear the poor kid feel like he has to say one more time how much he has learned and how he is now ready, this time, to take the next step….only to see the rope yanked away from him before he really gets a chance at serious minutes and regular play with linemates who can play off his skill set, well, let’s just say I’ll remain…perplexed.
To be clear: I would have little issue if Kadri had not been toyed with the past two seasons. Players get sent down for a number of reasons. I realize that. Even high draft picks. If they see him as an NHL guy who just needs time in the minors, great. But then keep him there until he is absolutely, positively ready to play at the NHL level. Stop this up and down stuff.
I’m not impatient about or with his development. I’m annoyed with how he is being dealt with. There is a big difference. How many times have I said here: I would much rather a young guy play in the AHL for as long as it takes, learn his trade, all that stuff, but when he is called up, make it for good. But no back and forth, back and forth.
Yet here we are again. And Kadri is not alone. Instead of starting Frattin in the minors, he started here and then goes where he should have been in the first place (and I like Frattin a lot).
Kadri has to wonder what the heck is going on.
I know some will say it’s about waiver issues and the cap, and that’s all true. Meanwhile, a guy who was—and let’s not kid ourselves—drafted to be a cornerstone is back in the minors and likely wondering what he has to do stay on a team crying for more high-level talent.