By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Mar. 22) – No, I neither predicted nor believed that Nazem Kadri would be among the top ten scorers in the National Hockey League at any point this season, let alone the two-thirds mark. I also had no inkling that Martin Brodeur and Leo Komarov would be deadlocked in goals. But, I knew that Kadri was dynamite.
All the Leafs had to do was let him play; stop with the nit-picking, stupid weight remarks and the expectation he’d become another Bob Gainey (arguably the best defensive forward of all time with Montreal in the 1970’s and 80’s, if you aren’t aware). Given sparkling hands, intuitiveness in the attacking zone and terrific wheels, Kadri was a powder keg. Leafs finally removed the shackles and quit threatening him with demotion after every mistake. Now, look what they have: a legitimate first-round draft jewel.
If you think I’m leaping on a ginormous bandwagon, you’re wrong. Here is what I wrote about Dazzlin’ Naz in September:
IN THIS TREMENDOUS PHOTO BY NICK STEWART OF GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM, NAZEM KADRI IS SHOWN CELEBRATING WITH LEAF FANS AT FIRST NIAGARA CENTRE IN BUFFALO. KADRI TWICE BEAT RYAN MILLER ON THURSDAY NIGHT IN A 5-4 SHOOT-OUT LOSS TO THE SABRES AND IS CURRENTLY EIGHTH IN NHL SCORING.
I’m not suggesting here that Kadri didn’t learn more about his craft while skating for Dallas Eakins in the American Hockey League. Nazem had the benefit of Eakins’ tough love during the 113-day NHL lockout and there’s no question it helped. As alluded to, however, I thought the remarks about Kadri’s excessive body-fat last September were uncalled for. It seemed again that Leafs were quick to denigrate the kid in public and I’m sure there are productive skaters roaming NHL rinks at this moment who would fail in a Charles Atlas look-alike competition (Randy Carlyle, in fact, was rather egg-shaped when he won the Norris Trophy with Pittsburgh in 1980-81).
Otherwise, Eakins did well with Kadri.
Observing what are still early returns from the 2009 draft in Montreal, it sure appears the Leaf scouting staff – led by Dave Morrison – did its job. John Tavares, Victor Hedman, Matt Duchesne, Evander Kane, Bryaden Schenn and Oliver Ekman-Larsson were understandably chosen before Kadri in the No. 7 hole. But, Kadri deserved to be nabbed ahead of such other young players as Jared Cowen, Magnus Paajarvi (who mysteriously dropped “Svensson” from his hyphenated last name), Ryan Ellis and Zack Kassian.
Finally, more than three years later, Leafs are letting the kid play.
TWENTY YEARS AGO RIGHT NOW, the Leafs of Pat Burns were blazing toward their memorable 1993 Stanley Cup challenge. With Doug Gilmour performing better than any player in franchise history, the club was nearing the end of a remarkable 19-3-3 run (Feb. 11 to Apr. 3) that included undefeated streaks of ten and eight games. Leafs went out west in the third week of February and routed Vancouver (8-1), San Jose (5-0) and Los Angeles (5-2). A four-game unbeaten trip to Minnesota, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary followed from Mar. 23-28. Leafs put together their best string of results since opening the 1977-78 season with a 19-6-3 record under first-year coach Roger Neilson.
Gilmour broke Darryl Sittler’s team-record of 117 points in a season (also from ’77-78) with a staggering 95 assists and 127 points. In the 40 games of January, February and March 1993, Gilmour had 18 goals and 51 assists.
Leafs finished the 84-game schedule 44-29-11 for a team-record 99 points.
Momentum, however, came to a screeching halt in the opening round of the playoffs – Detroit toying with Leafs, 6-3 and 6-2, at Joe Louis Arena in the first two games of a Norris Division semi-final. But, Leafs regrouped to win four of the next five and stunned the Red Wings in Game 7 at Detroit with a not-to-be-forgotten overtime goal by diminutive Nikolai Borschevsky.
It touched off a wild scene in downtown Toronto.
PICTURES TELL IT ALL…
IMAGES FROM TORONTO SUN (ABOVE) AND TORONTO STAR (BELOW) THE NIGHT LEAFS KNOCKED OFF DETROIT IN FIRST ROUND OF THE 1993 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS.
Seven-game marathons against St. Louis and Los Angeles followed the Detroit triumph – Leafs advancing farther than at any time in the post-1967 era, losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals at Maple Leaf Gardens to Wayne Gretzky and the Kings. It spoiled the dream of a Toronto-Montreal Cup final and, potentially, the end of a 26-year championship drought. One can only imagine the euphoria here were Leafs to make the Cup tournament this spring and challenge to break the now 46-year title famine.
NOT SURE WHAT IS MORE SURREALISTIC: Leafs qualifying for the playoffs or Bobby Orr becoming a senior citizen. How can the crew-cup phenom that broke into the NHL at 18 years of age be 65? If you’re a Leaf fan today, imagine Jake Gardiner or Matt Frattin as seniors. That’s how bizarre it is for me, having faint recollection of Orr’s rookie season (1966-67) with Boston Bruins (I turned eight in February), but crystal-clear memory of his brilliant 10-year term, sadly ended by a pair of crippled knees.
EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD BOBBY ORR (LEFT) POSING WITH ROOKIE COACH HARRY SINDEN AND TEAMMATE GILLES MAROTTE AT BOSTON BRUINS 1966 TRAINING CAMP IN LONDON, ONT. MAROTTE WOULD BE TRADED TO CHICAGO THE FOLLOWING SUMMER IN THE MULTI-PLAYER DEAL THAT LANDED PHIL ESPOSITO WITH THE BRUINS.
I last saw Bobby on Nov. 9, when he was here in town for the Hall of Fame weekend. Still looking like a man in his 40’s, he signed a large mural of his likeness in the Hall. Happy 65th to the greatest player I’ve ever seen.
MY PHOTOS OF BOBBY ORR LAST NOV. 9 PREPARING TO SIGN HIS HALL OF FAME MURAL (ABOVE) AND GRINNING BEFORE MEETING WITH REPORTERS (BELOW).
ORR’S ROOKIE SEASON WAS THE FINAL ONE of the pre-expansion era. The NHL doubled in size for 1967-68, adding the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Oakland Seals, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. All six played their initial games 45 years ago this season (another mind-boggle). On Thursday night, I had the honor of joining my friend, Dan Diamond, at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Maple Leaf Gardens. We spoke to a group of Ryerson University alumni about the history of the Gardens and its famous hockey team. Dan’s company publishes the annual NHL Guide and Record Book. As an artifact, I brought along my set of 1967-68 media guides from the original expansion teams (below):
WRITING WRONGS: Let me quickly get this off my chest.
I keep reading in the newspaper about so and so’s “past history” in the NHL. Question: Is there such a thing as a player’s “future history?” Why not just say “Nazem Kadri’s history of development in junior hockey…”? Most of us can assume it happened in the past.
Same thing with the words “dating back.” The best writers on the planet use this redundancy. “The Leafs are 0-for-8 in games against Boston dating back to last season.” Question: Is it possible to date forward? Of course not, because that time hasn’t yet happened. All you have to write is: “The Leafs are 0-for-8 against Boston dating to last season.” Again, most of us will assume it’s a reference to something which previously occurred.
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