Toronto Maple Leafs: Mike Babcock Wants Nazem Kadri to Prove People Wrong


Toronto Maple Leafs: Mike Babcock Wants Nazem Kadri to Prove People Wrong

More from Toronto Maple Leafs

Nazem Kadri is the last player that needs someone else to toot his own horn but Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock took it upon himself to do so. While taking questions at the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey school, Babcock addressed the Phil Kessel trade, free agency and the upcoming season.

One reporter then asked the Leafs head coach about his expectations for Kadri this season, to which he gave an interesting response:

"I expect him to be an elite player. His training has got to match his skillset, that’s to all of our guys. You can’t take the summer off. You’ve got to get to work. I expect our best players to be our hardest working people and set the tone, flat out. I’ve told them all that, they understand that and that’s what they need to do. This is a big two and a half months for all of them"

Oct 29, 2013; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs f/ Phil Kessel (81) and forward Nazem Kadri (43) celebrate Kessel

The first thing Babcock says is that he “expects him to be an elite player”, which means he thinks Kadri can be elite, but is not there yet. The 24-year old has had a tough going with former coaches calling him out on several occasions.

Sometimes it was deserved, but other times it was unnecessary. When the Leafs drafted Kadri seventh overall in 2009, they sent him back to the London Knights, because they felt he was not ready for the NHL.

During the 2010-11 season, Kadri was being tossed around between the Toronto Marlies and the Leafs. At the time, Ron Wilson said in an interview that Kadri was struggling during his development, something the former Leafs head coach was not shy about discussing.

"Q: Is it better to keep him down there for an extended period?Wilson: Everything will depend on how he reacts to it, how he plays, the effort that he puts in, the work that he’s willing to do. He still has to get a lot stronger. There’s areas of the game he’s just not at an NHL level yet. And that’s strength, little areas like face-offs, winning battles, being quick to do things, avoiding turnovers.He knows the things that he has to do. Now he just has to go work on them, practice them, and execute them in games."

Feb 21, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) passes the puck to center Nazem Kadri (43) before Kadri would score on the play against the Winnipeg Jets at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs won 4-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Just by reading this, it looked like the best course of action for Kadri was to keep him down with the Marlies for the rest of the season, or at least for an extended period of time. That season, Kadri played 29 games for the Leafs, registering 12 points, and another 48 games for the Marlies, scoring 40 points.

Years after Wilson was let go by the Leafs, he made an appearance on TSN during the season and he took it upon himself to comment on his time with Kadri.

"“I never felt that Nazem ever listened to me,” Wilson told the panel. His major gripe, he said, was Kadri didn’t backcheck when he was asked to.“If we had drawn a hard line with him and sent him down to the minors and made an example of him early on in his career, he might not be doing these things now,” Wilson said. “He might have been reformed.”Wilson admitted that Kadri’s fitness has improved, but “he’s still making the mistakes he made as a rookie.”"

In fairness to Kadri, during Wilson’s tenure in Toronto, developing players was not at the top of his list. Really it was former Marlies coach Dallas Eakins who helped Kadri get to where he is today with the Leafs.

More from Tip of the Tower

It was not always easy, but Eakins was able to get the most out of Kadri. With Randy Carlyle behind the bench in 2012-13, Kadri registered 44 points in 48 games.

Granted, he did not play against other team’s top lines. However, it looked like he was ready to stay in the NHL.

Last season was one that Kadri would probably want back. He had a dip in his offensive numbers, as interim head coach Peter Horachek tried to have him commit to play more defensively.

Then near the end of the season the Leafs suspended Kadri, a decision that Brendan Shanahan said was a message,  It was “a point where you’ve got to grow up”.

One person who always stood up for Kadri, and rightfully so, was Don CherryHe defended Kadri the moment he had his first training camp in Toronto, but he also agrees that he needs to grow up.

During his time in Detroit, Babcock has worked with a quality group of elite players and Hall of Famers. This list includes; Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Chris Chelios.

So for him to come out and say he sees Kadri as someone who can be an elite player, it is a big change from what the centre is used to. Does this mean he will get more responsibilities whether Tyler Bozak is still here or traded?

For years Bozak has occupied the first line, because he was the better option to matchup against teams top players. However with Bozak’s game on the decline and the Leafs heading into a new direction, it looks like Kadri has an opportunity to pick up more responsibilities.

He will likely play on the first powerplay unit, could be asked to kill penalties and play on the top line. However, nothing will be guaranteed for Kadri, as Babcock hinted that it is time for him to take it upon himself to prove he deserves it.

"“It (Kadri’s million-dollar raise up to $4.1 million) is a home run for him. He gets to come in, have a heck of a year and put the screws to us (in his long-sought extended deal). Why wouldn’t he? If I’m him, I’m going to come in and have the best year of my career, training the way I should, living the way I should.“So why wouldn’t I have a short-term deal? All I know is when you’re a player and you play well, it doesn’t matter how long the deal is, you’re just going to get paid anyway.”"

With a clean slate and a third coach to learn under, Kadri has a chance to finally prove his critics wrong. Both he and the Leafs took the low risk option of going with a one-year deal.

This could reward both sides going forward, as the Leafs try to determine what the future holds for Kadri. With Kessel gone, the London, Ontario native has a golden chance to show he can be Toronto’s best forward on the team.

What are your expectations for Kadri this season? Could he hit 60-70 points and still be accountable defensively under Babcock? Let us know in the comments section below.

Next: Leafs take familiar approach to free agency