November 12, 2010
"We believe in Nazem as a hockey player and a person, he's going to be fine. He's not ready to play in the top six (forwards) right just yet." -- Brian Burke, Toronto Maple Leafs GM, Oct. 5
Thirty-nine days after he played himself out of an NHL job, Nazem Kadri(notes) is a Toronto Maple Leaf again: Called up from the AHL Marlies Friday, given a bucket and being told to start bailing water out of the S.S. Brian Burke. The Leafs are winless in seven games, and are in a 1-7-3 spiral to the bottom of the division with the Buffalo Sabres.
Yes, the loss of Dion Phaneuf(notes) from the blue line is significant. No, it doesn't account for the fact that if you take away the four-goal outburst against the Washington Capitals, the Leafs are averaging only one goal per game in their last nine winless contests.
Hence, the return of Kadri, to help juice scoring and fix a mess at center. Hence, the talk of panic buttons being slammed by the Toronto Maple Leafs intensifies.
But seeing him back in the NHL smacks of desperation and raises legitimate questions about whether the Leafs are betraying their own plan for his meticulous development.
David Shoalts of the Globe & Mail wrote about the pitfalls in Kadri's recall before he returned from the AHL:
The Leafs brass realizes this is hardly the ideal time to promote Kadri from the Toronto Marlies. All eyes will turn to Kadri as the solution to the Leafs' scoring woes, which had them ranked 29th among the NHL's 30 teams with an average of 2.13 goals a game as of Wednesday. This would probably include Kadri himself, which is the problem for the Leafs.
Even if they sit the kid down and tell him there is no pressure on him, that he is just here to find his way in the show and do what he can (stay within himself as the coaches like to say), Kadri is unlikely to see it that way. He can read the newspapers and listen to the talk-radio shows, too, and start thinking everything rests on him, which means his stay is bound to end badly just as his development seems to be coming around.
Oh, c'mon now; the Toronto media won't unfairly scrutinize this kid ...
... oh, yeah. Forgot about that.
The pressure on Brian Burke, as the godfather at the head of the Toronto hockey table, is already unfathomable. Factor in that a non-playoff finish means another lottery pick for the Boston Bruins thanks to Burke's signature trade as GM of the Leafs. Factor in Ron Wilson, who has received more votes of confidence from Burke than Obama received votes in the general election, might have to finally go. It's incredible.
The weight of this dilemma is cracking the foundations of this team, as columnists like Steve Simmons are aiming higher than the players' bench and Ron Wilson in their critiques now:
If this was John Ferguson Jr., there would be a metaphorical noose waiting for his neck. He was an easy target. But because it's Burke, who has won a Stanley Cup, who has never ducked a question, who did good work in Vancouver, who came to Toronto with so much hope and hype, there is the tendency to give him the benefit of the doubt.
But for how long?
That is the difficulty of the Maple Leafs situation. This is a team without much hope. They had no centres yesterday. They have no big time centres today. Tomorrow, other than the possibility of Nazem Kadri, there may be no other centres to choose from. They didn't have their first round pick last June. They don't have their first round draft pick this June. June of 2012 is a long way away.
The Burke Leafs, unless they vastly improve, are a team lacking leadership, skill, depth and a definitive blueprint to the future.
Kadri has skill, adds depth and is a foundational player for the future. He's also not supposed to be a Maple Leafs yet. But when you've gone from tongue-in-cheek jokes about parade planning to panic time, [expletive] the blueprint and welcome to the Leafs, Mr. Kadri.