(Courtesy: Hockey Night in Canada)
Iconic, bombastic hockey broadcaster Don Cherry loves Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri.
Cherry has a bottomless well of affection for the embattled 24-year-old forward and on Saturday’s edition of Coach’s Corner he went to bat, once again, for his favourite Maple Leaf.
Clad in Lucky Charms gear for St. Practice Day, Cherry touched on the recent Kadri saga. After being late for a team meeting last weekend, in addition to a handful of other off-ice issues, Kadri was suspended by the club for three games. He was chastened and embarrassed.
In Cherry’s opinion, it was the final straw, and will probably result in Kadri leaving Toronto as an unrestricted free agent.
“Listen there’s been a cloud over this kid ever since he’s 18-years-old,” Cherry said, as he started off on yet another of his typical, rambling rants. “I remember his very first training camp he led the team in goals, assists, and they said he couldn’t play defense – he was plus-6! – (they) didn’t give him a chance, they sent him down. He’s been ridiculed, humiliated.”
The controversial broadcaster then got into a longwinded and factually inaccurate criticism of Maple Leafs interim head coach Peter Horachek, who was an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators when the Predators suspended Russian-born forward Alexander Radulov and Belorussian-born forward Andrei Kostitsyn for breaking curfew ahead of a playoff game back in 2012. During this particular strained anecdote Cherry referred to Radulov and Kostitsyn as “the two Russians”(nope), and misremembered some key facts about how that situation actually played out. Ron MacLean’s reaction sums it up best, really:
(Courtesy: Hockey Night in Canada)
Though Cherry whiffed on some of the details regarding the Predators’ decision to scratch Radulov and Kostitsyn during the 2012 playoffs, his larger point, that the Predators mishandled this particular incident, is actually compelling.
Then Cherry returned to Kadri, and made his bold prediction: that the promising Maple Leafs pivot will not be a Maple Leafs player in two years:
The kid is not going to be here in two years. He’d be nuts he’s been humiliated in front of his family and everything. He’s been called everything since he came here. He is not going to be here. I am betting you anybody that he will stay here when he’s restricted, the day he becomes unrestricted – they better take care of him before – because he’ll be gone. If anyone stays here after what he’s been through, humiliation, then he has no pride.
Whoa Don, tell us how you really feel!
Now perhaps lost amid the strong language, we should note that Cherry did leave the door open a crack for Kadri remaining a Maple Leaf, but he suggested that it’ll largely depend on whether or not the club takes care of Kadri for the long-term this summer.
Kadri is on an expiring deal and is arbitration eligible this summer. Barring lingering bad blood between the two sides – like what we saw with Ryan O’Reilly and the Colorado Avalanche this past summer – a long-term contract is usually the outcome when a key young asset hits his arbitration eligible restricted seasons.
In the context of this weeks events, how Kadri’s contract situation plays out this summer will be fascinating.
Cherry’s take on the Kadri’s recent suspension was unsurprisingly hyperbolic and scorching hot, but if you read between the lines and cool it down a bit, the notion that Kadri’s recent suspension raises the stakes of his pending contract negotiations is actually pretty interesting.
Watch the full segment from Sportsnet.ca here.