Toronto Maple Leafs: Kadri continues steady play in Matthews’ absence

COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 20: Nazem Kadri /

Without Auston Matthews in the lineup, Nazem Kadri continues to play a big role for the Toronto Maple Leafs at both ends of the ice.

One thing Mike Babcock should be proud of during his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs, is the success he has had with certain revitalization projects, the most notable being Nazem Kadri.

It is easy to forget that almost two years to the date the team suspended Kadri for missing a meeting. It seemed to be harsh at the time, but it allowed Brendan Shanahan to send an appropriate message.

If the organization was going to turn things around, they needed Kadri to be a part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

That was clear when the President addressed the situation with the media. 

"“We like Nazem Kadri, his teammates like him. We expect a certain level of professionalism. It’s time for him to start making better decisions. There’s a history here. And there comes a point in the careers of many hockey players (in) similar situations. But there comes a point where you’ve got to grow up” said Shanahan to reporters."

Not too long after a new sheriff was in town and it is safe to say that under Babcock, those issues are long gone.

Over his time with the team, it was hard to know whether management and coaches were being hard on Kadri for his own good or they had no way to get through to him. The contract dispute was a big storyline after a strong offensive showing in the lockout-shortened season.

it took time for the London, Ont., native to finally get that long-term security but once he did, the team started benefiting greatly from it.

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Sure it helps that drafting Auston Matthews has allowed Kadri to flourish in his current position. However, during this recent stretch without the first overall pick, it has been reassuring seeing Kadri step up.

Scoring two goals against a highly-talented Pittsburgh Penguins group with arguably the best one-two punch down the middle in the league is no small accomplishment. Doing it without the franchise centre makes it impressive as well.

The reason why this performance sticks out is because Kadri notched his second straight season with 25+ goals, which brought up this interesting stat.

It is hard to believe the team has been unable to find a dynamic duo at centre to do that, especially in the early 1990s and 2000s when the team made trips to the Conference Finals.

Looking back at the past 10 seasons, many teams who have gone on to win the Stanley Cup have relied on a franchise centre. More importantly, those teams ensured it had the proper supporting behind them and the Leafs have that with Kadri behind Matthews.

Much like the Penguins, the Leafs’ defence does not provide the toughest challenge. Instead both teams look to rely on its strong play down the middle and in net. Whether that formula can work for Toronto remains to be seen.

What fans can feel comfortable with is knowing Kadri can provide some assurance that he will not drop off completely with Matthews unable to play. It has played a major role in ensuring a smoother rebuild than most anticipated, but now the pressure to improve has never been greater.

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What do you think of Kadri’s play without Matthews in the lineup?  Does it make you confident that the Leafs can be competitive, especially in the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.