Oh what fun it’ll be to be a minor league player in Toronto during a lockout.
Not only are the Toronto Marlies expecting a full building to start the season with the Leafs on hiatus, but they’re getting a full media contingent on hand every day in training camp.
And Marlies coach Dallas Eakins gave everyone something to talk about right away, too.
In case you missed it on Friday, Eakins offered a somewhat unflattering portrait of the fitness level of Nazem Kadri, the Leafs first-rounder from 2009 who has played mostly in the minors since turning pro two years ago.
“His body fat today is probably in the bottom three to five guys in our whole camp and that's unacceptable,” Eakins said. “That's the easiest part of coming into camp is eating correctly and training correctly.”
He went on to add: “You have to look after what you’re putting in your body. And it’s like I tell them all the time, ‘You can put the high-octane gas in your car and it will go great. Now if you go urinate in your tank your car is not going very far.’ So it’s the same with your body, you put good fuel in you're going to go further, you put junk in, you’re done.”
You can imagine how that went over.
Some charged that the Leafs organization had been too hard on one of its top prospects, which includes former coach Ron Wilson often criticizing Kadri’s play publicly during his tenure with the team.
Others called it a sign players were treated too gingerly by the franchise and allowed to report to camp in subpar shape.
The bizarre thing on top of all this is the fact that Kadri trained with noted fitness guru Gary Roberts for a big chunk of the summer and told reporter Kyle Cicerella prior to camp that he worked his tail off while doing so.
“It was tough, pretty vigorous training,” Kadri said. “It was a hard summer for me. I went Monday to Saturday up at six in the morning every single day. I definitely put in the time this year.”
He later added: “Not much fat on me right now, which is ideally what I wanted.”
So what’s fact and fiction here? And does this even really matter?
Three thoughts on this:
1) Just as a low body fat does not necessarily make a great player, a high one doesn’t necessarily make a bad one. There are all types of bodies in the league, and even some of the top scorers aren’t in what we’d call peak condition. Some of the fringe guys, meanwhile, are workout fanatics, and it simply keeps them in the league.
2) Eakins is in that latter camp. He spent his career between the two leagues and now has a reputation for being one of the most physically fit coaches in the game. Heck, half the time you interview him, he’s on an exercise bike. And when we chatted prior to camp opening last week, he said specifically that he was really looking forward to seeing who was and wasn’t in shape. He has higher standards in this area than most.
3) Eakins has generally been very supportive of Kadri and took to Twitter soon after the comments were made on Friday to say the resulting uproar was overblown.
All that said, Kadri likely does have some minor issues with what he’s eating and how he’s training. That’s why he went to Roberts in the first place, and it may take more than two months of work to fix.
Many, many young players are in a similar situation, and despite the fact he’s been talked about for more than three years in this city, Kadri very much is still a young player at only 21. (He turns 22 on Saturday.)
The biggest problem in all of this, however, is that he has become such a lightning rod for controversy in this market.
As one of the few recent high first round picks the organization has, Kadri seems to get saddled with expectations and coverage way out of line with his talent level every year – and that brings the kind of questions and criticism we saw last week.
The reality is that he was and is only a middling prospect, one who has had some success in the minors but still has a few things to figure out at the pro level before he realizes his potential as a 40- or 50-point NHLer.
And what to eat is part of that.