The Toronto Maple Leafs Desperately Miss Nazem Kadri

MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 09: Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on February 9, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 09: Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Montreal Canadiens during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on February 9, 2019 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs miss Nazem Kadri.

Heading into the playoff stretch run, the Toronto Maple Leafs are still struggling to put together a winning formula and secure a chance at post-season play.

In a season that has seen a number of changes in team personnel from a coaching change to AHL call ups and NHL trades, the buds continue to search for that elusive fix.

The local media is rife with pundits offering their opinions on how to remedy the situation and all deserve to be heard and considered. In this spirit, I will offer up my two bits as to what troubles the current edition of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Certainly, this team does not lack for raw talent or skill. However, despite the Leafs obvious depth of skill, there seems to be something lacking in the teams’ overall  makeup. It would seem that this missing element is grit, sandpaper, competitive fire, or simply put,  good old fashioned toughness.

Toronto Maple Leafs and Nazem Kadri

If there is one management move within the last year that I wish could be reversed, it would be the trading of Nazem Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche during the off-season for Alexander Kerfoot and Tyson Barrie. Kerfoot and Barrie are both fine players mind you, but Naz was a unique commodity in Leafland.

Looking at the league’s overall standings on this Sunday afternoon, I see Kadri’s team, the Colorado Avalanche, sitting just two points out of third overall, while the Leafs are currently mired in twelfth place. It is painfully apparent that this talented and high scoring team is lacking something intangible.

In terms of sheer skill, forwards Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Tavares are all elite players in the NHL. There is no question about that. The same applies for Barrie and Rielly on defense. The stats bear ample witness to this fact. The trouble is that these players don’t scare anybody. They clearly don’t scare opposing players.

Looking at the remainder of the Toronto Maple Leafs roster there are very few players among the ranks who would give pause to the opposition, save for the moment, Kyle Clifford, a very good and absolutely necessary recent addition, and Jake Muzzin with his awesome mountain man whiskers and willingness to throw his big body around.

Zack Hyman possesses some grit and is great in the corners, but he’s a children’s book author in his spare time. He and J.K. Rowling are not putting the fear of god in anyone any time soon. The addition of Clifford and the presence of Muzzin are clearly insufficient when considering the overhaul in team temperament that is needed.

I am in no way suggesting that the Leafs adopt the goon tactics of teams like the Boston Bruins or the Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s, but management clearly needs to add players who realize and appreciate that hockey is at its core a physical game of brute force and, at times, intimidation, and not merely a demonstration sport of swift skating and fancy puck handling.

The Toronto Maple Leafs need players who hate to lose, get visibly upset when they do, and show this emotion in a demonstrative fashion. The Leafs lack of toughness has been cited as a problem, at times, by some, but I am starting to believe that this shortcoming has been largely underestimated.

Specifically, what the Leafs are lacking are top six to nine forwards and defensemen who, like Kadri, could keep opposing players looking over their shoulders, and hurrying their passes because they don’t know what’s coming. These players need not be goons or fourth line role players who take a few shifts every game, throw a couple of body checks and then wait it out on the bench.

What the buds lack are top flight players such as Jamie Benn, Brad Marchand, Alexander Ovechkin, Matthew Tkachuk, Evander Kane, Max Domi, Joe Thornton, and Ryan Getzlaf. All of these players are among the best on their respective teams, yet they all have a mean streak. Even Sidney Crosby, perhaps the best player of our age, has always shown a willingness to drop his gloves and engage in frontier justice when the situation called for it.

Lack of Aggression

More troubling than the buds’ lack of aggression is the realization that their biggest obstacle in the pursuit of a Stanley Cup is getting past the Boston Bruins, a team that is comprised mainly of surly and disagreeable, yet talented players-the exact type of players that the Leafs sorely need.

As a Leafs fan of the old school, I felt no disappointment in Nazem Kadri for his clearly illegal hit on the Bruins’ Louie Debrusk in last year’s playoffs. As I recall, I stood up and hollered for joy upon seeing it. It wasn’t because I wanted to see Debrusk maimed, but I did want to see him called to account for taking liberties with my beloved Leafs, and thank goodness that Naz was there to make the call.

Did he go overboard?… perhaps. But he showed the competitive spirit that his former teammates are currently lacking without him. He wanted his pound of flesh and he got it. The Bruins were probably an easier opponent for the rest of the series because of his actions. Its pro hockey and not the Icecapades. And playoff hockey isn’t the All-Star game skills competition.

Kadri should have been harnessed, not tossed out of town. Brad Marchard’s rap sheet is a good deal longer than Kadri’s and where is he now?… Well, he’s still a Bruin and his team is first overall.

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If only we could only subtract 20 years from the lives of Wendel Clark, Gary Roberts, and Darcy Tucker and insert them back in the lineup with the buds’ current top four forwards. Throw in Todd Gill and Luke Richardson on defence. Now we’re talking serious contender. Or, alternatively, we could have Kadri, then Leafs Nation would be talking…..cup talk…..again.