By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (July 6) — There are doubtlessly three words (one slang) that Ron Wilson, Randy Carlyle and Peter Horachek would have for Mike Babcock as it pertains to Nazem Kadri: “Good friggin’ luck.”
Perhaps the current head coach of the Maple Leafs would reply: “Just watch.” For under Babcock, Kadri has but a single opportunity to become the team’s number–one center. He was accorded that chance on Sunday afternoon by signing another short–term contract — for only one season, 2015–16. It is worth a career–high $4.1 million. His last deal was for $5.8 million over two years. By 2016–17, if all proceeds according to plan, the Leafs will look for Mitch Marner to graduate from junior and become a full–time National Hockey League player. Kadri, therefore, has an opening to make a good first impression on his new coach and wipe clean his littered NHL slate (I’m excluding Tyler Bozak from the equation, as I believe he’ll be dealt before training camp).
NAZEM KADRI HAS LOTS TO SHOOT FOR UNDER MIKE BABCOCK NEXT SEASON.
Many would acknowledge that Kadri has been the most talented pivot on the Maple Leafs since the lockout–abbreviated schedule of January–April 2013. He appeared to have grown by leaps and bounds in the American Hockey League under then–Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins during the lockout and he put up an impressive 44 points in 48 NHL games under Carlyle. He unquestionably had soft hands around the opposition goal. Measured liberally at 6–feet, 190 pounds, Kadri is more like 5–foot–10 and 175 pounds. In other words, smallish for a center. When performing effectively, however, he plays much bigger, and it’s that rambunctious tendency on which Babcock will look to capitalize.
What Babcock will not tolerate from Kadri is a lack of commitment — on or off ice ice. As such, the 24–year–old London, Ont. native, chosen seventh overall in the 2009 NHL draft, will need to markedly improve his defensive work and his habit of lazily turning over the puck in the neutral zone — both of which drove Wilson, Carlyle and Horachek to distraction. Neither will Kadri want to encounter Babcock when sleeping late and arriving tardily for a team meeting, as he did under Horachek on Mar. 8 of this year, the morning after a 6–1 thumping of the Leafs by St. Louis at the Air Canada Centre. Team president Brendan Shanahan publicly questioned Kadri’s level of responsibility and his choices away from the rink. The Leafs suspended Kadri three games for the incident.
Others have noted that Kadri may be too big for his britches, so to speak; that his self–analysis as a hockey player isn’t on par with performance. This, in my view, is fine. When he’s on his game, Kadri plays edgily and the Maple Leafs do not want him to lose nerve or confidence. His maturation, however, needs a big–time boost.
He’ll have that opportunity — but only once — under Babcock.
“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming… we’re finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming… four dead in O–hi–o.”
— Neil Young, Ohio, 1970
I was 11 years old in 1970 and I remember the first half of that year for three incidents: Bobby Orr scoring his famous overtime Stanley Cup–winning goal; the fatal shooting of four unarmed students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard (the students were protesting American military operations in Cambodia), and the crash of Air Canada Flight 621 northeast of Toronto’s Pearson Airport that killed all 109 aboard and was, at the time, our country’s second–worst airline disaster.
It was a lot to digest for a kid my age.
The plane crash hit particularly hard, given how close–by it occurred. It happened 45 years ago this weekend — July 5, 1970. A DC–8 landing from Montreal to pick up passengers for a flight to Los Angeles hit Runway–33 with enough force for one of its engines to separate from the fuselage. The First Officer had mistakenly deployed the wing–top spoilers 60 feet above the ground causing the plane to drop. The Captain applied full–force to the throttles in a “go–around” maneuver, but the wheels struck the runway — causing the engine to separate and producing a catastrophic trail of aviation fuel. As the Captain attempted a return to the airport, a trio of explosions destroyed the right wing and the plane nose–dived into the ground at nearly 230 miles–per–hour.
The jetliner fell in a farmer’s field near the intersection of Castlemore Road and McVean Drive in Woodbridge — roughly 10 kilometers (six miles) northeast of the airport. The nearby Woodbridge Memorial Arena at Highway 7 and Islington Rd. was used as a temporary morgue. The immediate area has undergone much urban growth since 1970 and the Toronto Star — in July 2010 — published a story on the 40th anniversary of the Air Canada tragedy: http://on.thestar.com/1ffykTX.
It is still a difficult memory.
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