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This is a guest post from friend-of-the-blog Mike Commito. Mike Commito is a policy analyst and hockey historian from Sudbury, Ontario. You can find him on the Royal Half where he writes as the Preview Professor. Follow him on Twitter… @mikecommito
I recently had the chance to chat with Nazem Kadri before Leafs practice on Friday afternoon and pick his brain about Darryl Sittler’s record-setting game from 1976, how he spent his All-Star break, and how the team’s play has improved this season with Mike Babcock behind the bench.
Mike Commito: So how did you spend the All-Star break?
Nazem Kadri: I went on vacation with a few of the guys, went out to Mexico, just tried to lay in the sun and enjoy ourselves a little bit. I think we came back a little re-energized and it was good for us.
Did you happen to catch any of the All-Star Game on Sunday or were you guys in full R & R mode?
We actually caught the majority of it in the airport, so we were fortunate enough to have it on TV and I enjoyed the format actually.
As a Leafs centre, what does it mean to you that Darryl Sittler’s 10-point game record still stands today?
I think that’s something that is going to stand for a while, it’s pretty tough to do in this day and age. I mean six goals and four assists and a ten point game, that’s definitely something special and something that is iconic. He was a heck of a player and a heck of a leader. Even talking to him this day, he’s just a down to Earth guy and really easy to talk.
You and Sittler both had similar arcs, you both played for the London Knights and had similar point totals in junior and, of course, you were both high Leafs draft picks. Do you recall any comparison as you broke into the organization?
I don’t think so. I think maybe we had some similar styles, we’re both our own players, but anytime you could be compared to someone like that it’s an accomplishment, but if I’m ever going to be near as good as he was I’ve still got a lot of work to do. My focus is just trying to get better every single day with the hope to build up to that.
Note: Sittler scored 252 points in 161 games (1.56) with London the London Knights and was selected eighth overall by the Leafs in 1970. Kadri played 112 games with London, picking up 171 points (1.53) and was drafted seventh overall in 2009.
Darry Sittler told me that prior to his ten-point game he deviated from his home game day routine and ate Swiss Chalet. What kind of routine do you have for home games?
I don’t know, maybe I should try something like that [Swiss Chalet]. I’m not too much of a superstitious person and I have a routine like everybody else and sometimes that changes a little bit, but for the most part it stays the same.
You’re having a career year in shots and faceoff wins, did you do anything in the offseason or specifically during the season to improve these areas?
Worked on my shot a little bit, always trying to get stronger. Obviously you mature as a player and an individual so that’s always something I’m working on and as you get older and mature you’re going to get stronger; it’s just human nature. I’ve been trying to find lanes to shoot pucks and starting to understand that scoring opportunities come off secondary opportunities which comes from shooting the puck. I don’t think there’s such thing as overshooting, but you definitely have to get that puck to the net.
Has shooting more been one of the key things you’ve been working on with Mike Babcock this year?
That’s always something he’s stressing, no shot’s a bad shot. You need to keep funneling those pucks to the net because it creates random play, even if the puck doesn’t get to the net it could get blocked and after it gets blocked it kind of scrambles wherever and could end up on our stick for a scoring chance. So that’s what we talk about, creating random plays by getting pucks through.
What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed with Babcock in the organization?
I think just structure wise that’s a big one, and everyone understands what role they have to play and where they have to play it. Structure is safety and safety is what’s going to help us win games, so that’s what essentially it comes down to and how well we can execute the game plan. I feel every single game we’re prepared, it’s just whether we execute to the level we’re capable of.
There’s been a lot of buzz about the Leafs “new” logo. What do you think of it?
I thought it was cool, I think they’re definitely trying to bring the past to the present a little bit. Obviously, its Toronto so there’s rich tradition, but I think change can be a good thing and I’m excited, hopefully, to be wearing that Leafs jersey next year, and I’m sure a lot of people are too.
Have you been involved in any contract negotiations recently or is that currently on the backburner?
I think that’s kind of on the backburner a little bit, obviously I’m just trying to worry about this team and how I can be the best player I can be for this team this year, so I’m just focusing on getting better and getting stronger and trying to max out my potential, and the rest will write itself.
We’ll close out with something non-hockey related and I know you’ve commented on Donald Trump before, but what do you think about him being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize?
I don’t know, everyone knows I’m not his biggest fan so, I mean he’s kind of on his own page a little bit so I’m going to try and stay away from that. I don’t think that’s a very deserving nomination, but that’s not for me to decide.
Tonight will be the Leafs second matchup against the Senators this season. They previously met on 10 October 2015 with Toronto losing 5-4 in a shootout. Kadri has certainly enjoyed squaring against Ottawa, as he is 11-4-1 all-time against the Senators with 9 goals and 5 assists in those sixteen career meetings. More importantly, Kadri’s own Darryl Sittler-esque moment came against the provincial rival on 30 March 2013 when he potted three goals and added an assist, his biggest individual performance to date. It also seems as though Kadri’s hypothesis about sun tanning in Mexico holds true, since returning from the All-Star Break the Leafs are 2-0 and he has continued to fire pucks at the net with six and five shots against Boston and New Jersey respectively. But this has been a trend that preceded the mid-season respite, in his last ten straight games, Kadri has rifled off at least three shots in each of those contests, including a minimum of five in his most recent three.
Hot Take: Nazem Kadri grabs a quarter chicken dinner to-go from Swiss Chalet on Terry Fox Drive and scores 11 points tonight en route to making NHL history.
*Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.