Nazem Kadri signed a two-year extension with the Maple Leafs that has a cap hit of $2.9 million. (Getty Images)
The easy thing to do in the wake of Nazem Kadri’s recently concluded contractual staredown with the Toronto Maple Leafs is to hold it against the young man, to paint him as expectant, selfish, immature. But that’s provincial and unfair. The truth is Kadri and his team were engaged in a standard game of financial chicken that ended, predictably, moments before both sides crashed into each other.
Allowing a business negotiation to cloud or curtail Kadri’s future in Toronto would be the dumbest thing Leafs management could do. The bridge between him and the organization has buckled at times, but burning it would only reinforce the reputation this team has for myopic decisions that benefit nobody.
Kadri has never lacked for self-confidence and that rubs some people the wrong way on and off the ice. He made mistakes and learned some tough lessons, but he’s hardly the first NHLer to do so. And he’s 22 years old, for goodness’ sake. How many people do you know who made it to that age without a regret or two? Let those folks enjoy the view from their glass house and let bygones be gone by.
For years, Leafs observers have repeated the same mantra: it takes a special kind of person to thrive under the relentless gaze of the voracious Toronto hockey media. Kadri endured that in his first three seasons as a pro and came out on the other side with a nifty, if inconsistent 2012-13 campaign that included 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games. He isn’t likely to challenge Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin for the Art Ross Trophy anytime soon, but he without question is the most talented homegrown forward prospect the Leafs have employed in recent memory.
And people want to give up on this guy or project a rocky future for him in Toronto because of a business negotiation? How petty. Imagine people in Montreal taking a similar attitude toward star defenseman P.K. Subban when he went through a similar situation with the Canadiens last year.
Like Kadri, Subban had been slandered as selfish, unfocused and highly enamored of his own reflection in his formative years. But once his showdown with Habs GM Marc Bergevin ended with a two-year contract in place, Subban got down to business and earned his first Norris Trophy. Because he and his team experienced success, the jackals who wanted his head on a spike have instead been served an all-you-can-eat crow buffet.
That’s the way it should be for Kadri in Toronto. Now that he has his two year, $5.8-million contract, he and the Leafs will either continue to show improvement and shut up his critics, or he’ll plateau and his next contract negotiation won’t be nearly as contentious. Neither Kadri nor management ought to hold a grudge based on these past few weeks – and if either side does, that’s on them.
The fact is, Kadri has never had a better opportunity to succeed than he does at this point in time. He’ll center either the first or second line and is likely to get more responsibility on the power play. And clearly, he was wise enough to recognize that missing any part of training camp would hamstring him in his efforts to solidify a starring role with this franchise. That’s what people should be talking about today. Dwelling on his past is bad enough, but projecting that his future will look very much the same puts you squarely in the category of those seedy psychics who hang a neon sign in their apartment window and expect you to trust them.
To be sure, Kadri isn’t a complete player and may never be. But the tone you take in your appraisal and expectations of him says far more about you than the player himself.
Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Adam on Twitter at @ProteauType.