The Nazem Kadri Dilemma

By
Updated: October 2, 2012

Training camps recently opened across the AHL, and with the opening of camp comes the days of physicals and fitness testing.  It seems that highly hyped Maple Leafs’ prospect Nazem Kadri came to Marlies camp in something less than the best of shape.  He was said to have a high body fat percentage, and to perform poorly in the team’s fitness testing and early on ice skating drills.

Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins was not impressed and didn’t just throw Kadri under the proverbial bus when he spoke to the media, he got behind the wheel and made sure he backed the thing over Kadri a few times before he was done.

Eakins ripped into Kadri saying, “His body fat today is probably in the bottom three to five guys in our whole camp and that’s unacceptable. That’s the easiest part of coming into camp is eating correctly and training correctly. There’s just no coming off if you’re an athlete, it’s no different than the normal person. You make your choice. You can either go sit on the couch, put your feet up and have a bag of potato chips or you can go on the couch and put your feet up and grab some carrots and some apples.”

A harsh critique of the young Kadri.  A 22 year old forward who was drafted 7th overall by the Leafs at the 2009 Entry Draft, and was once seen as a key future piece to the Leafs forward core.  Since that time, his development has somewhat stalled, and I think some of the blame for this needs to be placed at the feet of those in the Leafs organization.

Since being drafted the Leafs have repeatedly treated Kadri with “tough love”.

In 2009 Kadri dazzled at Leafs training camp, and was the team’s best player in preseason.  Instead of giving the young forward a nine-game NHL tryout in regular season action, the club quickly dispatched him to London of the OHL and told Kadri to work on his defensive game.  I’m sure the Leafs couldn’t have used a young sparkplug like Kadri to put up some offence early in the season, with Phil Kessel on the shelf.  The Leafs would start the season with 1 win in their first 11 games.

In 2010-11 Kadri started with the Marlies.  The Leafs meanwhile had a good start before falling on tough times and having a terrible month of November.  Kadri was producing at near a PPG pace playing for the Marlies in the AHL, while the Leaf team was desperate for offence.  The debate for calling up Kadri raged in the Toronto media.  Then head coach Ron Wilson ripped Kadri publically, basically saying that he couldn’t play a responsible  game in the neutral zone and that the Leafs weren’t going to call him up despite the points.  It was the first of many public criticisms of Kadri’s game that would come from Wilson, GM Brian Burke, and now Marlies coach Dallas Eakins.

A few weeks later, with the Leafs season going further down the tubes, Kadri was eventually called up and he would score 3 goals and 12 points in 29 games as a rookie.  Kadri also dazzled in NHL shootouts, scoring some highlight reel goals and getting the team some much needed wins in this session.  Sure he didn’t light the league on fire, but it was a good start for a 20 year old in the NHL.

Last season, Kadri was again criticized for his offseason work out routine as the team felt he was too skinny and didn’t come into camp with enough muscle on his frame.  He once again started the year with the Marlies.  He did get a few callups and scored 5 goals for the Leafs in 21 games, despite limited top 6 ice time and powerplay time.  Once again the critiques from Coach Wilson were strong after games.  And the Leafs’ tough love approach continued.

Despite that, Kadri was returned to the Marlies where he was among their best and most productive players down the stretch and into the playoffs.  Despite all the criticism he just keeps producing, but one must question how the constant critiques are effecting Kadri.

How has Kadri responded to the latest criticism? It seems he is defending himself, and not taking responsibility for the issues, saying the following.  “It definitely maybe could’ve been a little better, but it’s definitely not bad. I think the way I’m carrying myself out on the ice, I feel stronger, I think my wind is way better than it was last year [and] I think that body fat did drop down from last year too.”  It seems Kadri believes he has improved his fitness over previous years, but I think Eakins would beg to differ.

I understand the Leafs are upset with Kadri, and I understand that coaches want him to get himself into shape, and also want to see him play a more responsible game on the ice.  However, the question needs to be asked, is showing a player like Kadri “tough love” the way to do it?  Is repeatedly openly criticizing a 22 year old kid in the media the best way to motivate him?  I’m not sure it is.

This isn’t the first time a team has tried the tough love approach with Kadri.  In the OHL Kadri started his career with the Kitchener Rangers.  In Kitchener he would openly clash with coach Pete DeBoer in his second season, and despite scoring 65 points in 68 games that year, Kadri was shipped off to division rival London when the season concluded.  The young Kadri rebelled against DeBoer’s “tough love” approach.

In London Dale Hunter took a more nurturing approach to Kadri (bet you wouldn’t see Dale Hunter and nurturing in a sentence) and it paid off, big time.  Kadri blossomed into the player who would score 78 points in 56 games and be drafted 7th overall by Toronto. The next year, he was a legitimate OHL superstar with 93 points in just 56 games.

Perhaps the Leafs should try a more nurturing approach with Kadri.  Obviously there are issues with his fitness and his game that need to be addressed, but maybe they should be addressed behind closed doors, and not in the full glare of the Toronto Media.  Because the approach the Leafs have taken over the last 3 years is not working and Kadri is too talented a prospect to run out of town.  The team needs him to become a productive forward if they are ever going to end the cycle of perpetual rebuilding.

It would be a shame if the Leafs were to go the way of the Kitchener Rangers, and trade Kadri, only to see him blossom and fulfill his potential elsewhere.

For a review of Kadri’s game, and other Leafs Prospects, click here.   For a full list of NHL team prospects, click here.

LWOS is pleased to bring you a one-hour hockey radio show, accessed at Last Word Radio Network, to be aired on Wednesday nights at 10-11pm.

Feel free to leave your comments below and follow me on twitter @LastWordBKerr.

9 Comments

  1. Jim

    October 2, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Interesting debate on how the Leafs have handled this. Drafting 18 year olds and predicting the progressive maturity and personalities in the future must drive organization nuts. As your article points out not all players are cut from the same cloth and careful consideration must be given as to the best method to encourage their growth.
    Thanks for sharing this Ben. Good work as usual.

    • Ben Kerr

      October 2, 2012 at 6:28 pm

      Thanks Jim

      We’re launching our Puckheads radio tomorrow, hope you can tune in.

  2. IronManDan

    October 4, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    The only dilemma is how to get the stalker-esque Canadian media to lay off Leaf prospects.

    No other team’s prospects in the NHl, not even Canadian teams, have to put up with the obsessive insanity that the Leafs’ prospects do. Keep it in perspective guys… this kid is only 21… has never played a full NHL season and was drafted 7th overall. Name one other guy drafted after the number 2 spot who deals with anything even remotely close to this?

    Headlines on tsn.ca and other national publications…. public comments from Don Cherry… public responses from his coaches… what other player has to try and develop into an NHL player in the spotlight outside of the likes of Nail Yakupov to Taylor Hall? Those guys have the top end skills to do it, but to take a guy who’s not at that elite level and just hammer away at him mercilessly, that just shows that the media has no idea what they are doing.

    Blogs like this just add fuel to the fire.

    • Ben Kerr

      October 4, 2012 at 7:22 pm

      Yup

      Its the media’s fault when Eakins, Brian Burke and Ron Wilson have publically ripped the guy. I guess that you can hope the media will go away and ignore everything the Leafs coaches and management do, but that isnt going to happen.

      I prefer to blame the guys who have dealt with that same media for years and really should know better than to publically throw their young player under a bus.

      The only people adding fuel to the fire are Burke, Eakins and the rest of the team’s staff

      AS for no other media being as bad as Toronto…. I think you need to look down the 401 and up Quebec’s Highway 20 to Montreal, where the media is every bit as ruthless.

      • IronManDan

        October 5, 2012 at 1:57 am

        Ben, I don’t Eakins comments as “Throwing Kadri under a bus”… that’s just hyperbole.

        A coach should be allowed to call out his players if he sees fit. Is the Toronto media going to run the story, especially when there’s no hockey to talk about? Absolutely. That’s what regional hockey writers do… same in Montreal, same as anywhere that cares about hockey.

        However, when TSN picks up the story and runs it notionally, that’s a different story altogether. You have basically a non-story, that gets blown out of proportion simply to have a story, and then suddenly Don Cherry is piping in. Now Eakins is forced to respond to this minor issue on a notional stage and the thing is already taking on a life of it’s own as some sort of side drama. My point is that pretty much no other teams prospects (who weren’t drafted in the top 2-3 spots) have to deal with this. The very fact that there are blogs talking about the “Nazem Kadri dilemma” shows how absurdly out of proportion this whole thing is.

        You want a prospect to develop? Then let him develop. You can only put someone under the microscope for so long before you start to ruin the entire process.

        > The only people adding fuel to the fire are Burke, Eakins and the rest of the team’s staff

        The only people eh? The only ones? Sorry to single this out on your blog… you didn’t start this, but it’s an issue that really irks me. I blame Jason Siegel mostly, as well as other beat writers who feel this is a national story. It’s frustrating. Go to tsn.ca and take a look at recent stories. Kadri’s name is in two of the headlines. That’s more than 95% of NHL players… forget 7th overall picks who are heading into a season in the AHL. Even Scrivens gets a headline… because apparently in Siegel’s world, Leafs prospects are more important than pretty much every other team’s prospects.

        You can make your points about the Leafs management, but to ignore the media’s role in this manufactured drama, I call that professional bias.

        • Ben Kerr

          October 5, 2012 at 5:29 pm

          To both Dan and BB.

          Yes, I agree, teams need to be able to call players out in the media.

          However the Toronto media is what it is… the Montreal media is what it is. Asking those cities to change is just not going to happen.

          So the teams themselves (the Leafs and the Habs) have to recognize this, and need to understand the media in their cities. Playing the media game is necessary in both those cities… you can’t ignore them and expect them to act like the media in any other centre. Its a fact of life, and you deal with it.

          Just like the New York Yankees, Giants, and Knicks have to deal with it. Just like the Boston Red Sox, or Chicago Cubs, or St. Louis Cardinals. Just like the Miami Heat, or LA Lakers. You just have deal with it, nothing else you can do.

          And where I have the issue is not that they sent him down in 2009… not that they have called him up and sent him down many times…. not any of that.

          Its that calling out Kadri in that same media has been necessary at every point.

          You sent him down to junior as a 19 year old… great. Just say “he wasn’t ready, or we think he needs more time” not…. “His defensive game isn’t good enough”

          Every time he was sent from the NHL to AHL, there was always a criticism that accompanied it.

          And in this case, deal with his issues of body fat percentage behind closed doors too.

          Sure you can call a player out on occassion, but calling out Kadri has become common practice for the Leafs organization, and I’m not sure that it is productive with this player to do it every single time. It would seem that maybe sometimes a different approach might be utilized and might prove to work wonders.

          • IronManDan

            October 5, 2012 at 7:28 pm

            It’s an interesting point Ben, I guess since I mainly follow the Leafs, I really only see what’s in Toronto media, and in national media (TSN, HNIC, and the occasional out of town newspaper).

            I don’t mind the local coverage so much… that’s to be expected, it’s the national coverage that a prospect like Kadri gets that baffles me. Frankly, I just don’t see it with other team’s prospects. (Again… excluding any 1st overall picks from that pool).

            I think an interesting experiment would be to ask random hockey fans across the country what prospects they can name from other teams. There’s not really any reason why someone in Vancouver should know so much about Nazem Kadri considering his NHL experience/results thus far.

          • Ben Kerr

            October 5, 2012 at 9:38 pm

            I will point to one other young kid who has gotten as much press as Kadri and that is PK Subban. He’s one of the most known and followed young players, but in general, yeah those players are few and far between.

            While Kadri isn’t first overall though, he is top 10, which is still pretty high.

  3. BB Hockey

    October 5, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Good article Ben, but I agree with the post above, the coaching staff and management have to be able to use all means in order to reach players. I watched a few Marlies games last year and although Kadri showed signs of briliance against the lessor competition that was in the AHL, he also glided back out of the offensive zone a number of times and was drawn into stupid retaliatory penalties far to often (or in not penalized, taken out of the play because he was distracted). That said, I do believe he is a good player with a lot more to prove.

    To your other points, there are many examples of young 18/19 year olds having great camps and being sent right back to junior rather than lacing it up in the NHL. The Leafs in the past have been critisized for rushing prospects and having them fall flat on their faces. Sending him down the first season was not a mistake in my mind and should not have caused harm.
    As for the multiple call ups, early on in his career there was documented fact that Kadri felt he was entitled to an NHL career and many clubs have had to use a “tough love” game to bring these players around. I believe Bob Probert admitted to feeling this way early on in his career.

    I did not know about the early (pre-draft) history (thanks for the info), and it is interesting that it showed big results in the OHL, although I wonder how much of it was actually the coach style vs a normal skill progression of a player, many players at that age either blossom or fade away just from the maturing process.

    All this said, I think the one thing fans and the Media are doing wrong here are taking the glass is half empty side, yes the club is saying he is not in the shape they expected him to be, but the media and fans are then saying well this is why he is not a point per game NHLer yet. He is still young and players take differing amounts of time to mature. I think there is still a 2 year window left before you start saying he is a bust.

    Agreed on the trade comment, too often the Leafs of old have given up on young prospects and shipped them out of town. Give the kid some more time, and I say still call him out for his major faults, but if they are going to do it for him they have to be consistant and do it for any other player they have.

    Good article Ben

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