Finishing first in the NHL standings and winning the Presidents’ Trophy is a fine achievement but you can bet each and every team that has hoisted the silverware would gladly trade it in for a Stanley Cup. This includes this year’s regular-season leaders the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche won the Presidents’ Trophy by a hair over the Las Vegas Golden Knights in 2020-21 as each team wound up the shortened 56-game campaign with 82 points.
Colorado however, earned the honour and wrapped up the Western Conference title by racking up more wins in regulation time. But the last time the Presidents’ Trophy winners won the Stanley Cup in the same season was in 2012-13 when the Chicago Blackhawks hoisted both trophies in a shortened campaign. The last team to win cups in a regular 82-game schedule was the Detroit Red Wings in 2007-08.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you view things, the top two regular-season teams this season met in the second round of the playoffs with the Golden Knights ousting the Avalanche in six games. It was a fast, hard-hitting affair which could have gone either way and was a series Colorado had to play without one of their top forwards in second-line center Nazem Kadri.
After posting 30 goals and 68 points in 107 games with the club since arriving via a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2019, and adding nine goals and 19 points in 17 playoff outings, Kadri was once again missing in action this postseason. He managed to contribute an assist in two games against the St. Louis Blues in the first round and then found himself on the outside looking in as he was hit with an eight-game suspension.
The 30-year-old center nailed Blues’ blue liner Justin Faulk with a high, illegal and arguably late hit in the second game of the series and received a match penalty and game misconduct on the play. He was then quickly banned for the rest of the series and part of the next one against Vegas. Since the Avalanche swept St. Louis in four games it meant Kadri would have to miss at least six games of the clash against the Golden Knights if the series went that far, which of course it did.
What’s remarkable about the Kadri suspension is the fact that it was his third ban in the past four postseasons. The unfortunate trend began when he was playing with the Maple Leafs. The native of London, Ontario was suspended for three games in 2017-18 for hammering Tommy Wingels into the boards in the first game of a first-round series against the Boston Bruins. The Leafs bounced back from a 3-1 series deficit only to lose game seven in Boston.
It was deja vu all over again 12 months later when Toronto and Boston met in the first round. This time Kadri was tossed for the rest of the series after delivering a cross-check to the neck of Jake DeBrusk in the second game. The Leafs would take a 3-2 lead in the showdown but were eliminated in seven games again. Arguably, the two suspension to Kadri cost Toronto a chance to advance from the first round on both occasions. He had been one of the team’s top scorers in the regular season in 2017-18 with 32 goals and 55 points and posted 16 goals and 44 points the following campaign.
The Leafs apparently laid quite a bit of the playoff failure blame on the player as Kadri was traded to Colorado on July 1, 2019 along with defenceman Calle Rosen and a third-round round draft pick in 2020 for forward Alexander Kerfoot, defender Tyson Barrie and a sixth-round draft pick in 2020. Kadri was now deemed Colorado’s problem but he behaved himself in 2019-20 when he scored 19 goals and 36 points in 51 regular-season contests and turned up the heat in the playoffs with nine goals and nine helpers in 15 games and served just 10 minutes in penalties.
There’s no doubt the Avalanche felt Kadri’s absence in this season’s playoff defeat to Vegas and some fans believe he derailed the team’s legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup. Even though the Colorado lineup is quite deep with skill and secondary scoring, it blew a 2-0 series lead while Kadri watched from the sidelines.
The club appealed the eight-game ban, but an arbitrator named Shyam Das upheld it hours before the fifth game against Vegas after Kadri had already sat out six games. The fact that Faulk missed the final two games of the series for the Blues and received a concussion in the incident may have helped swayed the arbitrator’s mind.
It’s unclear how Colorado management will deal with Kadri but a trade is always a possibility. He’s got one season remaining on his six-year contract which sees him paid $4.5 million a year and he’s scheduled to become a free agent in the summer of 2022. He’s earned a reputation as being a reckless player and it’s one that’s going to be hard to shake free of. When he’s at his best, Kadri’s a hardworking goal-scorer, playmaker and checker who plays the game with grit.
But at his worst, he’s a troublemaker who has been suspended for 26 combined regular-season and playoff games in total due to six different incidents. In addition, he was sent home by the Maple Leafs and scratched for a game in March 2015 when he missed a team meeting. He had also missed a meeting earlier in his career while playing with the Toronto Marlies, the Leafs’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate.
What happens with Kadri next and how the Avalanche fans will react to him the next time he takes the ice is anybody’s guess. However, you can bet for the next few weeks or so they’re not going to be too happy with his latest on-ice brain freeze.
Featured image: Steven Christy/Flickr