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Please stop the Nazem Kadri yo-yo

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.


  1. Wow, so many great points there, Michael...not sure where to begin! Great win, and great to see 60 min of effort. Grabbo was in his top-10 form again. Couldn't agree more with your assertion that it's better to have 2 capable goalies down the stretch--gives everyone confidence. And makes life a bit easier for the coaching staff.

    The one thing that I'll always remember about Kadri is Burke brazenly telling Brian Murray on draft day "we're taking him" with cameras rolling. Kadri is Burke's project and he's screwing up this project big time. It's going to be damaging for the kid's psyche and he may never recover. There's still a bit of hockey to play for the Marlies, so let's hope they just leave him there for the season. They had no business calling him up so at this point, admit you were wrong and just let him play. We know he's got the skill--let the rest develop. I could go on on this frustrating topic, but you've captured my sentiments pretty well up there. Geez...enough already!


  2. I am going to refer to history and modern examples on this one.

    Didn't Johny Bower play 8 seasons in the minors?

    Lets look at the current Red Wings

    Jimmy Howard: 4 seasons and 186 games in the AHL

    Jiří Hudler: 3 seasons and 185 games in the AHL

    Darren Helm: 2 seasons and 127 games in the AHL

    Justin Abdelkader: 1 and half seasons and 109 games in the AHL

    Niklas Kronwall: 2 seasons and 102 games in the AHL

    Jonathan Ericsson: 2 and half seasons and 178 games in the NHL.

    Compare that with Nazem Kadri:

    One and half seasons and 66 games in the AHL.

    Plus he got call ups for 48 NHL games.

    That's more NHL games than he would have got in Detroit...and nobody talks about them ruining their prospects.

    Guys like Helm, Hudler and Kronwall went up and down over multiple seasons.

    Kadri is close... and he just has to wait his time for an opportunity or the trade of a veteran and get a little bit better to finally stick...just like many in Detroit.

  3. It's a shame, but he hasn't earned a spot yet - to my eyes. And I'm not sure what else you can do but give him a shot when you think he's ready and see what happens. The only line open for Kadri at the moment is our third line, and that means Crabb or Lombardi would have to sit. I don't think that's a trade-off that works. It's clearly not the ideal way to nurture a player, but I think his play has been inconsistent, and if he's not ready, he's not ready.
    And there's another factor, of course. We have too many bodies for available spaces. Perhaps the decision simply comes down to: "who can you send down without clearing waivers?"

  4. A nice win for the Leafs! Really happy they took 3 out of 4 points against the Pens. This game could have easily gone either way. that I think about it, they deserved the 2 points the night before, and last night both teams deserved the point - weird how that balances out.

    I think the Kadri/Aulie demotions were based on the waiver rule exemptions more than anything else. As many times as I've read how these waiver rules work, I still wouldn't be able to explain them off the top of my head, but when you have the option of demoting players that are waivers exempt, then it makes more sense from a management perspective.

    But yeah, it's disappointing to see promising players getting bounced around like that. Let's hope they don't get too frustrated and instead build on the playing experience.

    I'd like to bring up something that Burke mentioned in an interview though - about John Ferguson Jr. making a 'genius' decision (his only?) in bringing the Marlies to Toronto. This makes the transition of being 'sent down' far less painful for players and it definitely makes signing college-type free agents easier. One of the reasons why Marcel Mueller signed with the Leafs is that he'd be playing in a larger city regardless of playing with the big team. He wouldn't have to grind it out in Obscuretown, USA. I never thought about the Marlies being in Toronto being an advantage for the Leafs....

  5. Caedmon...we're on the same page on this one. Thanks.

  6. DP...thanks. I always appreciate your perspective and you have done some homework. My only comment is that, as I tried to make clear in my post, I am not upset that Kadri has to spend time in the minors. In fact, I have always said he should have spent ALL of last season there. It's that they keep changing their minds about his "role" and their public utterances have not been consistent. As a result, they keep yanking him back and forth and I'm not sure that that approach is healthy for the player.

  7. Gerund O'....For the record, I agree that Kadri has not fully "earthed" a spot and his play has lacked the consistency that they are no doubt looking for. I just wonder if the approach they are taking- and the constant harping on the negatives- is part of what is hindering the young man.

  8. Hogie...good post. Yes, I'm sure the whole waiver thing is part of this. (Doesn't really change my view on how Kadri is being handled...)

    As for the Marlies being in Toronto, I think you are right. It seems to be working on various levels. I will always feel badly, however, about the way the Leafs left St. John's. That community really loved having the Marlies and did nothing to deserve losing the team. I'm glad they have another AHL team now!

  9. Michael, agree totally - 2 capable goalies for the run to the second season (playoffs) is a smart idea. You never know which goalie will have a hot hand come March/April….and you never know which goalie will rally the team to perform better.

    I agree with your comments that player development in the Leafs organization takes some pretty weird twists & turns of which many of them I do not understand why. The treatment of Kadri, Gustavsson (earlier this season), Zigomanis all leave me scratching my head wondering what is going on behind the scenes.

    My comparison maybe a bit unfair but I look at the treatment of Tyler Seguin with the Boston Bruins – from a distance, there seems to be so much more commitment and nurturing shown to Tyler than Nazem and its paid dividends for Boston. Toronto doesn’t seem to accept this type of treatment and I wonder if that’s partly being under such pressure/scrutiny with the press et al.

    Like your comments on Gustavsson - maybe Nazem needs to develop within another organization to see his full potential.

  10. David...I appreciate that you referred to my long-standing comments about the Leafs and their handling of Gustavsson. Everyone wanted to forget about it because he played some good goal for a while (management sounded as though they were pleasantly surprised that he plated as well as he did...), but I'm still not sure he won't ultimately need a different environment to be able to play his game and flourish. Same with Kadri,

    I agree with your thoughts on Seguin. Different player, sure, and a very different circumstance (more veteran team, etc.). But they have given him the time to develop slowly, albeit at the NHL level. As I mentioned to DP, I have no difficulty with Kadri playing with the Marlies. I've never seen anyone hurt by spending time initially in the minors. It's the bouncing players back and forth that can be troubling, and it is for me in this case. Let them stay there until they're ready and then let them be NHL'ers, assuming they have the right attitude and work ethic. Thanks.

  11. In some ways this discussion is a bit acedemic.

    Soon Nazem Kadri will no longer be waiver exempt and somebody will grab him.

    The Leafs have to call him up and play for good him or trade him or lose hime for nothing.

    I'm not sure on the contract date, but three years after the first contract Kadri loses his exemption....that might be at the end of this year.

    He is also 22 in October and has played 49 NHL games and so another 21 games and he is no longer waiver exempt by the age 22 and 70 NHL games rule.

    At age 23 the 70 game rule drops down to 60 the noose tightens on the Leafs, but kadri would already be free under the three years form first contract rule.

    My guess is that this is last year Kadi plays any significant games in the AHL.

    This year or next year he is called up for good.

  12. Here's the answer:

    "Kadri signed a 3-year, entry level contract with the club on July 6, 2009"

    So after another 21 games this year or on July 6, 2012...Kadri is no longer waiver exempt.

    This is the last year of the up and down.

    The next call up this year could be for good.

  13. "Kadri has to wonder what the heck is going on."

    I think he knows exactly what's going on and its us the fans and media that don't. It's pretty simple as I see it and it is that he, like many good young prospects was called up to replace an injured player and upon the return of said player, Kardi returned to were he should still be... in the AHL.

    Let the onus be on Burke to ship out a current player if he believes the time is right for Kadri. If not then there is nothing wrong at all that he is still on the farm. We don't need to have a young player up to learn how to play in the NHL, we need players that do know and wont be a liability when he does play on the big team. We don't need to watch our young players struggle in front of millions and cost us wins when we have a "jr. team" where he can develop.

    I remember Burke in an interview talk about how he wish he didn't have to develop players at this level (on the Leafs) but because he had no prospects to speak of at the time, he had no choice but to have them develop in front of millions on the Leafs roster. I agree with him 100% with that, if we really don't need him up at this stage, why not have him get ready - ie never be seen as a liability and step right into the NHL without any questions about him? I think if you have the depth, you do it and right now we have the depth.

  14. A. Donnybrook we may differ on this one but I appreciate your view. As always you present things really well.

    Again, I have no problem with a young player developing in the minors. That should almost always be a logical step in a young person's development.

    My specific concerns are are noted above, in my post and earlier comments. Thanks.

  15. Ah, a break from school work and a return to commenting :)

    DP, I'm glad you beat me to the punch on the comparisons. Minor league seasoning never hurt a player and only really helped, if they had the skills to stay in the NHL.

    It was mentioned briefly on PPP but the best comparison for Kadri would be Cody Hodgson, 10th overall in 2008 a year before Kadri.

    Hodgson was once considered the best NHL prospect for 2 or 3 years by many different outlets. Fans even got frustrated at Vancouver management for not letting him start with the Canucks. Last year Hodgson had a good shot at finally making the Canucks but injury set him back - sound familiar?

    Vancouver kept Hodgson back 2 years in the OHL and a season in the AHL being "the man" on the Moose. His point totals were 92pt in 53gp plus 16 in 6 @ WJC, 20 in 13 and 30 in 50. During that time Hodgson only received 8 games with the Canucks and that was last year.

    This year Hodgson finally graduated to the Canucks after getting all the conditioning required to be a full-time NHLer and it is paying off. Hodgson is excelling with 30 points in 50 games in his first season while not being expected to lead the team or be a top six player.

    Kadri had one season similar to Hodgson's after being drafted, WJC that was very poor and no one near as good as Hodgson's, and his AHL time is far better than Hodgson's. It would be best to keep Kadri in the AHL for the remainder of the season, both for development purpose and for the sake of playoff hockey for the Leafs. Next season could be the season but not in the top 6. Maybe his story could be like Hodgson's if not better.

  16. Good post as always, Skill2Envy...I made a similar comment regarding Hodgson, as I recall, on a previous Kadri post (I'll have to double-check on exactly when...)

    I'm repeating myself, but in case people see this who did not actually read my post, I have long advocated Kadri should have spent last year, in full, in the minors. (I have always said seasoning in the minors never hurt anyone...most of us would agree on that one.) I would have been happy if he spent this season with the Marlies, too. What I am opposed to is the constant shuffling back and forth, as I tried to outline with specifics in the post....