Nazem Kadri came to the Colorado Avalanche with a chip on his shoulder. Amidst tragedy and change, he’s become one of the Avalanche’s fiercest leaders on, and off, the ice.
Growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, I had a first-hand view of Nazem Kadri’s career, long before the blockbuster trade that brought him to the Colorado Avalanche.
There was the time I saw him in his final junior season, a game in which Kadri’s London Knights would triumph the opposing Guelph Storm 4-3. The time when, during ongoing struggles with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, my family spotted him in the concourse of Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum, where he’d just been sent down to play for the AHL Marlies. Kadri always felt like the underdog, whether it be a love/hate relationship with fans, potshots by the (often controversial) Toronto media, and moments where he seemed to be the only one thrown under the bus.
Over a year later, it’s Kadri who has become one of the Avalanche’s most endearing players. And in the last month, he’s become one of the biggest voices of the entire league.
“It’s not just one or two guys,” Kadri said last Thursday, facing the press, “(it’s) every player being on the same page, and sticking together.” Surrounded by tens of players from the four Western Conference teams, it was Kadri who stood front and centre along with four others, including teammate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Following the unjust shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, Wisconsin police days earlier, it was a joint statement that had all teams in solidarity.
Kadri, one of the nine co-founders of the Hockey Diversity Alliance back in June, has stepped up not once, but twice this month.
The Avalanche forward, who is Muslim and of Lebanese background, was stunned, alongside the rest of the world, when an explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon left 190 dead and about 300,000 homeless. Kadri sprung into action, instantly creating a page with his foundation to raise money for those affected.
It’s one of numerous causes The Nazem Kadri Foundation supports both internationally and in his home country, including the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Naseeha Muslim Youth Helpline, and SoldierOn, which aims at helping wounded veterans.
In the midst of all this, Kadri, who was sidelined with a lower body injury prior to the season’s suspension, became one of the most talked about players since the playoffs began. Days before the Beirut tragedy, Kadri earned a place in Avalanche lore, scoring the game winner against the St. Louis Blues, with less than a second to go. The goal, officially with one-tenth of a second remaining, is an NHL playoff record.
Kadri has gone on to score 12 points in 11 games, including 5 goals in the round one win against the Arizona Coyotes, which saw him play big minutes with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen on the powerplay. Despite some struggles the last few games, Kadri has no plans of stopping, having 5 points this series against the Dallas Stars. If anything, it’s cracked the reputation he gained in Toronto for not being a playoff performer.
These days, in Toronto his absence is bemoaned.
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Upon Kadri and the Avalanche’s defeat of the Coyotes — and the Leafs’ prior elimination in the play-in round — article after article from Toronto-centric news sites and papers made it clear how much he was wanted back. Almost every article made it clear how much they regretted the trade that saw Kadri ditch his longtime home, which on July 1st sent longtime defender Tyson Barrie and young forward Alexander Kerfoot north.
Gone was the stigma of the player who “took too many penalties,” or the one who earned suspensions two consecutive first rounds; the player who appeared as the punchline in fan comics and had earned un-endearing nicknames. Having failed to fit in with the Leafs’ new team, especially with the arrival of John Tavares in summer 2018, the Avs were happy to bring Kadri on board, and on-ice the difference has showed.
Speaking to Sportsnet during the first round, coach Jared Bednar was aware of the mistakes. Mistakes that Kadri was keen to challenge. “He stated right away he made some mistakes there,” Bednar spoke of Kadri’s time in Toronto, “I told him I (needed) him to be a difference maker for us.”
As the Avalanche enter Game 7, Kadri is a key piece in the team’s goal to move on to their first Conference Final since 2002. But both off and on the ice, Kadri is a unifier. Along with teammate Bellemare, he successfully brought the NHL to stand together last week, and as with his on-ice play, there’s no clear sign of stopping.
He’s become the difference maker the Colorado Avalanche needed.