On Canada Day 2019, the Nazem Kadri era came to an end in Toronto after 561 regular season games, 161 goals, 357 points, 19 playoff games, 10 playoff points, and 443 penalty minutes.
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10 years, what can I say. Words cannot describe what this city means to me. You welcomed me in as a boy and watched me grow and evolve in front of your eyes. Thank you for opening your arms up and making me feel right at home. You asked for my heart and I gave you my soul. Forever a special place in my heart. That being said, I believe my best years are in front of me and I cannot wait to join my new team. The new chapter starts now, thank you Toronto for everything you have done for me, I will never forget it
Storylines seemed to follow Kadri right from the beginning of his NHL career, starting moments before he was selected seventh overall by the Leafs in the 2009 draft, where the famous “we’re making the pick” interaction took place between Brian Burke and Bryan Murray on the draft floor. From his rocky relationship with Ron Wilson, Dallas Eakins calling him out at Marlies camp, to a litany of suspensions (many from the league, one from the team), it speaks to how talented, devoted, likeable, hard-working, and genuine in his desire to win in Toronto Kadri was that he has been largely beloved through thick and thin in such a fishbowl of a market.
That is what stings many Leafs fans about the trade: There was not a prouder Leaf and Toronto resident than Nazem Kadri, who wanted nothing more than to be a life-long Leaf and help return the team to Stanley Cup glory. He embraced the city and the team at a time when it wasn’t easy being a Toronto Maple Leaf, hellbent on being a positive difference maker after nearly a decade of losing hockey in Toronto.
As much as he had some brush-ups with coaches in his time here, what could never be questioned was his willingness to buy in and do whatever was best for the team. His maturation as a person and transformation as a player was extremely impressive to witness — from a player who was considered all offense and a power play specialist coming out of junior, who crushed it offensively in a more sheltered scoring role in the lockout-shortened year in 2013 in his first full NHL season, to someone who could match up with the best centers in the league and shut them down a good amount of the time.
We could also talk about the team-friendly contract he signed to remain a Leaf long term, but his response to the addition to John Tavares was yet another example of Kadri’s desire to win in Toronto above all else. Kadri was at the time coming off of his second consecutive 30+ goal season in which he played in the hardest matchup situations on the team and performed admirably within the role. It would’ve been easy — and understandable — for him take issue with the Leafs making a significant move at center that relegated him to third fiddle down middle.
Nazem Kadri on potential role change with addition of John Tavares: “I just want to win. Every every single year I watch the Stanley Cup Finals… I just want that so bad for the city and the organization”
The reality is that, as much as Kadri and the rest of us wanted to believe he was every bit as important to the team in the John Tavares era, the basic math didn’t add up — there was only so much ice time to go around with two elite centers ahead of him and only so much scoring talent in one line-up for him to play with. Kadri could play a scoring role alongside talented wingers and he could also do the job of a shutdown matchup center, but asked to play in a secondary not-quite-a-scoring-line-not-quite-a-checking-line situation, he looked a little rudderless at times this past season.
It is by no means a perfect analogy because it wasn’t a direct trade, among other reasons, but Nazem Kadri helping to set the stage so that the Leafs could land a stud like John Tavares, only for him to not get the chance to be a part of an ultimate run, shares some common threads with the DeMar and Kawhi situation with the Raptors. Asked about Kadri’s legacy in Toronto, Kyle Dubas mentioned the involvement the likes of Darcy Tucker and others have had as ambassadors for the team post-playing career, and you can certainly envision Kadri taking on that kind of role one day in the future. Before then, you could even fantasize for a second about a grey-bearded Kadri making a Wendel Clark or Doug Gilmour-style return to the Leafs as a player some day down the line.
For now, though, let’s enjoy ten of Kadri’s best moments in over his nine seasons in a Leafs sweater. These are in no particular order, but feel free to rank them or add your own in the comments below.
Until next time, Naz.
With an upstart young Leafs team down 2-0 and in need of a spark late in the first period of Game 3 in their 2017 first-round series against Washington — the team’s first playoff home game since 2013 — Kadri rose to the occasion, landing two trademark Naz hits on Brooks Orpik in the same shift. The ACC crowd erupted into a frenzy, setting the stage for Auston Matthews’ first career playoff goal a few seconds later.
This was a significant moment in a series that the heavy-underdog Leafs easily could’ve won, with all but one game of the six-game series decided in overtime. As Kadri exemplified on that shift, the Leafs weren’t going away quietly that night or in the series.
After Kadri scored to make the game 3-2 late in the second period, the Leafs went on to win the game in overtime on a Tyler Bozak game-winner set up by — you guessed it — Nazem Kadri.
The Backes Fights
At the beginning of the 2016-17 season, Kadri took on new-Bruin David Backes off of a faceoff following a Leafs goal. Battling a 30-pound deficit, Kadri acquitted himself well, protecting himself, landing some punches, staying on his feet, knocking Backes down at one point, and scoring the takedown at the end. Over on the bench, Auston Matthews looked particularly fired up coming off of his four-goal debut in just his second ever NHL game.
The two already had a history from a fight a year prior in St. Louis, where Backes tossed Kadri over off the draw and Kadri went right back at him, breaking his stick over Backes with a cross-check, tailing him around the ice for a while, and finally dropping the gloves:
He didn’t fare quite as well the first go around, but that’s a pretty good encapsulation of what Kadri is all about: He’s just going to keep coming back. What’s pretty remarkable is that Kadri managed to play on the edge consistently in Toronto and very rarely missed any games through injury.
The Hedman Brawl
Defying weight classes was something of a Kadri trademark, as shown again back in 2013 in a brawl against Victor Hedman:
The Sedin Hit
This one looked borderline at first, to say the least, but the frame-by-frame replay revealed it was shoulder-on-shoulder contact and the DoPS deemed the hit clean afterward (Thankfully, Daniel Sedin was okay and played the next game). It was almost as though Kadri couldn’t help himself here once Morgan Rielly got the party started up the ice.
The Beard Trimmer & the Sharks’ Failed Revenge Plot
This one’s the stuff of legend:
Kadri literally drops a handful of Thornton's beard on the ice after the fight. Ew. pic.twitter.com/Ncgprzax0G
— Flintor (@TheFlintor) January 5, 2018
Kadri for some reason was made to answer for this months down the line as the Sharks’ Pete DeBoer felt he violated the sacred hockey code that dictates Joe Thornton is allowed to slash you off the draw with impunity (Jumbo, for his part, seemed unbothered).
In the rematch the next Fall, Barclay Goodrow chased Kadri around the ice off the opening draw and Naz lived in the Sharks’ heads rent-free all night. Later in the game, as the Leafs were closing out a nice victory, Kadri discarded Melker Karlsson’s stick in hilarious fashion:
Hat Trick Against Washington
Adjusting to a new role in 2018-19 with John Tavares added to the fold, Kadri was off to a tough start to the year offensively with just 10 goals in 48 games. He finally got a couple of bounces to go his way on a Wednesday night in January and added a beautiful one-timer goal set up by the now-departed Connor Brown.
Hat Trick in Ottawa & The Dougie Kiss
This is the moment Kadri really arrived in Toronto. After struggling to gain the favour of former head coach Ron Wilson and splitting his seasons between the Marlies and the Leafs in 2010-11 and 2011-12, Kadri spent the first half of the 2013 lockout year ripping it up for the Marlies and hit the ground running when the NHL season got underway, tallying nearly a point-per-game while forming a dynamite duo with Joffrey Lupul.
Kadri scored two hat tricks that half season, including one to clinch the team’s first playoff berth since 2004 in a spirited Battle of Ontario matchup in Ottawa on Hockey Night in Canada:
With the fan base jubilant as the Maple Leafs returned to the playoffs after nearly a decade on the sidelines, Coaches Corner invited Kadri onto the set after the game so Don Cherry could ‘give him the Gilmour’:
The Emelin Hit
Sticking with the 2013 season, this night will always be remembered as the silver-lining moment of the otherwise-dismal Randy Carlyle era in Toronto. With the Leafs up 3-0 inside 30 minutes in Montreal on Hockey Night in Canada, Kadri sent the message that the Leafs were going to beat up on the Habs on the scoreboard and in the alley that night, landing a massive hit on despised figure Alexei Emelin:
That very much set the stage for the famous finish to that game:
How Do You Like That, Risto
Shifted into the matchup role under Mike Babcock at 5v5, Nazem Kadri’s back-to-back 32-goal seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18 owed a lot to his courage in front of the net — to take punishment, battle, and get to loose pucks in the slot role on the power play. Occasionally that would boil over, and on one such occasion in Buffalo in April of 2017, it created this amazing, vintage-Kadri moment:
Speaking of the matchup role, Mike Babcock first tried Kadri out in that dedicated assignment in the Fall of 2016; Babcock’s idea being he could get the most out of Naz if he challenged him with the big task, with the added benefit of Kadri snow plowing in front of rookie Auston Matthews as he learned the league.
One of the first signs that Kadri might take to the role quite nicely came in early November of 2016 against Edmonton, when he outdueled Connor McDavid off of the opening draw in overtime to pocket the game winner.
After the game, Kadri delivered the hilarious line, “I didn’t feel like getting embarrassed tonight.”