Things were way too quiet in Toronto for way too long.
No jerseys had been thrown on the ice lately, the Maple Leafs didn’t diss their stakeholders lately by purposely not acknowledging them with a postgame stick salute.
No coach had been fired lately, there’s been no goalie controversy (well, that’s overstating things), Phil Kessel had gone a full month without calling a reporter an idiot and a full week since standing in front of captain Dion Phaneuf’s locker and saying the way the media treats Phaneuf “in this city is embarrassing.”
So, it really did serve me right for thinking I could get up from my desk to brew a pot of coffee Wednesday morning.
In that five-minute interval, another plot-twisting Toronto soap opera erupted in the Center of Hockey Universe, and I missed the live play-by-play on Twitter. Poor Brendan Shanahan had such a stress-free job when all he had to do was levy fines and suspensions and make snazzy nhl.com videos as the league’s old discipline czar from his Manhattan office.
Now as the head honcho in Toronto, every day it seems he has to put out some kind of five-alarm fire.
The latest involves youngster Nazem Kadri, who apparently has a lot of work to do to become a professional.
Benched for one game for being late to a meeting (Kadri forgot last Sunday to “spring forward” his clock), Kadri was forced to sit two more games after Shanahan surprised Toronto’s bloodthirsty, gossip-loving media during an impromptu press scrum.
While not divulging specifics, Shanahan said being late to one meeting was not an isolated incident, that there were other indiscretions and poor decisions, and that Kadri needed to use the quasi-suspension as a learning lesson.
“If this were just a case of Nazem being 15 minutes late for a meeting one time, then you could probably sweep this under the rug and handle this internally,” Shanahan told reporters in Toronto.
Shanahan said it was time for the talented 24-year-old forward to “start making better decisions. There comes a point where you’ve got to grow up.
“We expect a certain level of professionalism. It’s time for [Kadri] to start making better decisions. There’s a history here.”
The instant reaction across the Twittersphere was that Kadri was done in Toronto. However, if that were the case, the Maple Leafs probably would have kept this in-house as not to affect Kadri’s trade value. By Shanahan going public, it’s reasonable to think the Maple Leafs value Kadri as such a big part of the future, this was just another eye-opening attempt to wake the kid up, give him a painful, embarrassing public lesson and try to get him to realize he needs to mature and become a pro.
“This is a moment when a player has to look in the mirror and make some decisions,” Shanahan said. “Naz is an important part of our future.”
For that to be true though, Kadri needs to be receptive, clean up his act and commit himself solely to being a quality player and pro. Otherwise, the Maple Leafs will have no choice to cut the cord.
He expressed regret Friday.
“Of course I’m embarrassed about it,” Kadri told reporters. “Lesson learned, and that’s how I’m going to approach it. I’m a little bit humiliated but besides that it was a lesson learned and something you can look to as making yourself a better person.’’
Whatever Kadri did to mess up, this public whipping felt like a last, desperate resort by the Maple Leafs’ hierarchy to get through to the talented but frustrating player.
The Maple Leafs are at the start of a rebuild. They’re about to miss the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years. They certainly seem to have a serious leadership problem despite Kessel’s admonishment of reporters that they should be “ashamed of themselves” for apparently treating Phaneuf like, Patrick Roy’s favorite word, garbage.
“Is it [Phaneuf’s] fault we’re losing?” Kessel asked. “Did he build this team? No.”
The Maple Leafs have become a laughingstock throughout the NHL. Maybe this public flogging will get everyone in the organization to stop the circus.
Of course, next time I make a pot of coffee, I’m bringing my phone with me just in case I miss a Maple Leafs plot twist.
NHL short takes
Ducks defenseman Clayton Stoner, who played 227 games for the Wild, was upset with me and another Minnesota reporter for apparently, in his mind, spinning a quote he gave to the Orange County Register in January.
Stoner was quoted saying, “I didn’t like the way it was run in Minnesota. They kind of just give one defenseman [Ryan Suter] all the minutes, and the rest suffer. And I wasn’t happy there. I don’t think the minutes displayed how I was playing. It was more of just the way things were run there.”
Friday morning, Stoner said, “The story wasn’t anything about the Wild. It had to do with me liking the way the coach coached the back end on our team. … As a player, I like to play more minutes, right? So who wouldn’t? It’s just common sense. I said I really liked how the coach here disperses the minutes and has trust in everybody, and that’s all I said. The article was about me, it wasn’t about any other team.
“I didn’t call out Suter and [coach Mike Yeo]. I like how they have trust in everybody [here]. Everybody’s got 18-24 minutes. I like that. It’s great as a player. It shows confidence in me. That’s it. That’s all. It’s refreshing, but am I calling them out? I had a great time [in Minnesota] and respect the coach, respect Suter. He’s one of the best players in the league.”
Gretzky staying on sideline
Wayne Gretzky told the Los Angeles Times that never is a long time, but he doesn’t foresee himself having about a formal connection again with the NHL, even the potential expansion Las Vegas franchise that will be owned by Bill Foley, with whom he has affiliations.
“[Commissioner Gary Bettman] and [Deputy Commissioner] Bill Daly have always made it known privately, publicly, that I’m always welcome to be involved,” Gretzky said. “Right now the reality is, for me, it’s not a perfect marriage. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t respect the game and what they do and what the league is doing.”
It takes a thief
After the Calgary Flames rallied from four goals down in the third period to get a point in Ottawa on Sunday, coach Bob Hartley quipped, “Let’s leave the building before the [Ontario Provincial Police] shows up.”
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Tuesday: 7 p.m. at Nashville (FSN)
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. Wash. (FSN)
Saturday: 1 p.m. vs. St. Louis (FSN)
Player to watch: Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues
The young star is one of three NHLers with at least 30 goals and 30 assists this season (John Tavares and Tyler Seguin are the others) and entered the weekend six points behind Tavares for the league scoring lead.
« If we win our games, it doesn’t matter what happens anywhere else. »
— Wild goalie Devyn Dubnyk on the playoff race