Nazem Kadri said all the right things Friday, breaking his silence for the first time since the Toronto Maple Leafs suspended him for three games, after he'd arrived late for a team meeting last Sunday.
Kadri vowed to be a better professional in the weeks and months ahead. He characterized the dialogue with management as ending in "positive ways." He acknowledged that he was both "embarrassed" and "humiliated" by the suspension, but promised he held no lingering ill will toward the Leafs.
All in all, it was a poised performance, Kadri expressing the requisite contrition for his actions in front of a large gathering of reporters and promising to do better in the future. The only question he danced around was what specifically triggered the penalty – which began as a one-game suspension, but was bumped up to three by team president Brendan Shanahan in a deliberate and public manner, in the hopes that it would scare Kadri straight.
The Leafs lost 6-3 to the Flames in Calgary on Friday night.
Kadri was asked if he was burning the candle at both ends – and needed the question explained, before acknowledging that yes, perhaps that was so; he was guilty of being a 24-year-old and enjoying the life of a 24-year-old perhaps a bit too much. "Sometimes, you do look at it as that," Kadri said, "and a lot of times you're forced to grow up a lot faster than you really want to. That just comes with the territory."
However, Kadri went on to say that "being [in] a public domain, everyone likes to speculate about this and that – and a lot of it is untrue. What is true is how I approach things and how I'm going to be better for this team in every way possible."
Of course, saying it is one thing, doing it something else again. However, Kadri is not the first player in NHL history to struggle with the transition from teen idol to established professional. These are all young men, showered with riches and fame at an early age, and used to hearing just how special they are. They hear any message long enough and they start to believe it.
A generation or two ago, burning the candle at both ends was for many NHL players just part of the job description – and no one was especially bothered by a moderate amount of carousing, especially if it was done in the interests of team building. But then the NHL became an oh-so-serious business and demanded a greater level of day-in, day-out professionalism.
Players needed to be faster, fitter and smarter about their lifestyle choices. They needed to eat better, sleep more and devote a far greater amount of time to their craft. As the financial stakes were raised, the competition for those 750 NHL jobs grew, too. It is now at a point where any player who veers off the straight and narrow can be out of work in a heartbeat. The Leafs hope their intervention with Kadri will have the desired effect and they can all look back upon this firestorm as a watershed moment in his development. "Some teams don't get a chance to get people going in the right direction," Leafs coach Peter Horachek said. "Sometimes, the player never becomes who he needs to be or what they expect of him. Sometimes, players 'get it,' if you will. They make that commitment.
"That's a normal thing that happens to players around the league. Young draft picks, they come out and they've been praised and been brought up to a level. Instead of earning what they need at the NHL level, they kind of get put there. Sometimes, young players have to have the right guidance."
Kadri called the suspension "a wake-up call" and said he understood "that certain things just aren't going to be tolerated" any more.
"What I know is, I want to be part of the future and they expressed the same feeling. For that, I'm thankful. It's really just a bump in the road. You can take this one of two ways. You can sit here and try to make excuses and blame other people and whine about it, or you can take it as a positive and accept the consequences and take the responsibility and move forward – and it makes you a better person and a better player."
Kadri will return to the lineup for Saturday's game against the Vancouver Canucks, as the Leafs continue their road trip through Western Canada.
It wasn't so long ago that Kadri was among the NHL's leading scorers, tied for 21st with 44 points in the 48-game shortened 2012-13 season, one behind the Islanders' John Tavares. However, his career has been a series of stops and starts since then.
Some teams cut their losses with young underachievers, shedding themselves of a player they've had issues with – and the light-bulb moment comes at his next NHL stop. Even as the Leafs embark on a scorched-earth rebuild, they say they want Kadri to be part of their nucleus.
"It all comes down to the team and the players making the commitment to get the player to where he wants to be," Horachek said, adding: "He's shown up and done all the things he needs to do. He's handled it the right way. We expected that – and I think it's a positive direction and now we've got to keep it going."