Nazem Kadri is living his best life with Stanley Cup contending Avalanche

Nazem Kadri is thriving with the Avalanche during the playoffs. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Nazem Kadri is thriving with the Avalanche during the playoffs. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

Nazem Kadri doesn’t need your redemption narrative.

Will he take it? Sure. The 29-year-old is indeed riding a spectacular redemptive arc at the moment, with a point-per-game scoring pace in the postseason while sitting two wins away from a playoff round he’s never tasted before. But Kadri doesn’t seem the type to wallow in the past — especially when his present is so bright.

You know the story.

A little over a calendar year ago, Kadri sat on the opposite end of hockey’s pendulum. A running cross check to the head of Jake DeBrusk midway through Game 2 of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ series with the Boston Bruins in 2019 earned Kadri a series-ending suspension for the second consecutive year, sidelining him for the remainder of the first round which Toronto ultimately dropped in seven games.

Would the Leafs have slayed their Boston-based demon en route to a second round appearance for the first time since 2004 with Kadri in the lineup? Perhaps. We’ll never know. And when it came to testing that theory, Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas clearly wasn’t willing to wait until next year to find out, dealing Kadri to the Colorado Avalanche on July 1, 2019 for Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot (among other pieces).

As Thanos once said, “The hardest choices require the strongest of wills.”

Trading Kadri, the longest-tenured Leaf at the time and an ardent fan favourite in the city, certainly fit the bill. But what that change of scenery gave Kadri, as jarring as it was, was the fresh start he didn’t know he needed.

Kadri was a relic on the Leafs, a last remaining holdout from the woeful days of the past now bridging the gap to a supposedly bright future. All who had followed him through that transition had departed as well, with the Leafs seeking to build a new identity. It was a miracle he lasted that long in the first place, really. Joining the Avalanche inverted Kadri’s circumstances, adding him to a core that was mere pieces away from true contention.

In Colorado, Kadri was meant to be that piece. And so far, he’s looked the part.

Aside from six points through six postseason games thus far, Kadri’s raw statistics fail to do justice to his true impact on the game. That impact is reflected in Kadri’s sparkling 54.65% CF/60 at 5v5, 51.53% xG share, 51.93% SCF or 57.75% SF. Simply put, when Kadri is on the ice, the Avalanche outplay their opponents. And typically, when a team outplays its opponent, that team tends to win (don’t tell the Leafs that, though).

Off the ice, he has shown the benefits of a locale change as well.

Kadri didn’t shy away from the pressure in Toronto, seeming to thrive in the spotlight while simultaneously displaying the remarkable ability to let criticism roll off his back. And considering what form that criticism would take at times, that’s not an insignificant feat. But there’s an ease about Avalanche Kadri™ these days, one that simply didn’t ooze from Leafs Kadri™ to the same degree.

He’s been far more outspoken in the media — both of the social and traditional variety. When every move is scrutinized within the fishbowl of Toronto, players tend to shy away from outward expression. But no one is sifting through Kadri’s comments with a fine-tooth comb up in his new digs, allowing him to say what’s on his mind and more or less just be himself.

When former NASCAR driver Kyle Larson was caught using a racial slur on camera, for example, Kadri tweeted Marcus Stroman to ask him for dibs on Round 2 of a hypothetical UFC fight. Now in Toronto, any mention of violence — even the wholly justified kind — would likely be met with pearl clutching from the holier-than-thou crowd. But not up in the Rockies. Nazem Kadri can be Nazem Kadri, with no fear of an Instagram comment or missed pass in practice becoming national news.

And now, as a fixture on the consensus Stanley Cup favourite, Kadri truly is living his best life.

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