Nazem Kadri broke a four-day silence Friday, speaking for the first time about the three-game suspension imposed by the Toronto Maple Leafs after he arrived late for a team meeting this past Sunday.
Kadri spoke after the Leafs' morning skate at the Scotiabank Saddledome, hours before they were to play the Calgary Flames in a game that had a significant meaning to the home team, less to the visitors.
Kadri didn't provide a lot of details about his conversation with Leafs' president Brendan Shanahan, but expressed the requisite contrition for his actions promised to do better.
The Leafs originally suspended Kadri for a single game, but extended it to three to drive home a point about professionalism – and the organization's perception that at 24, five years into his pro career, it wasn't where it needed to be.
"Of course, I'm embarrassed about it," said Kadri. "It's a 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, something you can look to as making yourself a better person. It's a lesson that couldn't be more clear at this point in time.
"I have no ill feelings for anybody else. I put the blame on myself and understand that I have to bring a better level of expectation in terms of professionalism. Other than that, all I can worry about is the future."
Asked specifically if he was burning the candle at both ends, Kadri needed the question clarified before acknowledging that maybe, he was too invested in being a 24-year-old and not showing enough discipline.
"Sometimes, you do look at it as that," said Kadri, "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 and obviously, with this being 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."
So how does Kadri specifically plan to change? What will the new and improved Nazem Kadri look like?
"I think it's all similar," he answered. "It was a bit of a wake-up call and understanding that certain things just aren't going to be tolerated. I'm never one to put myself before the team. I'm not bigger than the team. That's not the approach I'm taking.
"Shanny, and management, made it clear what has to be done and achieved … Obviously, things have to change – and given time, those changes will happen.
"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, coach Peter Horachek confirmed.
Horachek has been around long enough to know Kadri isn't the first young player that needed time to figure out what it took to get the most out of his talent.
"I think that happens to a lot of teams and a lot of players," said Horachek. "Some teams don't get a chance to get people going in the right direction – and sometimes the player never becomes who he needs to be and what they expect of him. Sometimes, you get players who 'get it' if you will. They make that commitment to being everything they expect to be, and we expect to be. Our expectations have to be similar to his. 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 kinda get put there. Sometimes, young players have to have the right guidance and the right respect from all the other players."
According to Kadri, this will be the watershed moment in his evolution as an NHL player and described his meeting with management as "pretty positive."
Kadri said he was "a little surprised" when a one-game ban turned into three games, but "that being said, I understand fully why they did it and there are no ill feelings. I've had meetings with them that ended in positive ways. It's about taking steps in the right direction.
"Like Shanny explained, this happens to a lot of young players. For myself, it's a bit of an eye-opener to understand that certain things have to be done and I'm all for that."
In terms of specific changes to his game and lifestyle, Kadri spoke about "preparation – just being a little more prepared, a little more ready, and to understand that professionalism is huge; that no matter what day it is, or whether you're in or you're out … I expect what they expect of me and if not more from myself. It's something I'm going to move forward with."
It wasn't so long ago that Kadri was among the NHL's leading scorers, with 44 points in the 48-game shortened NHL season. But it has been a series of stops and starts since then.
Some NHL teams cut their losses with their young players, shedding themselves of a player they've had issues with – and that light-bulb moment comes at his next NHL stop. Even as the Leafs embark on a scorched earth rebuild, the expectation is that Kadri can be part of their nucleus going forward.
"It all comes down to the team and the players making the commitment to get the player to where he wants to be," said Horachek, who added:. "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."
There was an odd counterpoint to Kadri's situation down the hall in the Flames' dressing room, Calgary signing free-agent defenceman Douglas Murray to a professional tryout. The Flames' depth on defence has been tested of late by an injury to team captain Mark Giordano. Murray, who'd just finished playing for Cologne in the German League, was brought in to practice with the team for a few days, so they could evaluate his conditioning and the state of his game.
Once upon a time, Murray was a key shutdown defender on the San Jose Sharks, one of the Flames' key divisional rivals, but ultimately, his lack of foot speed lost him his NHL job.
Murray acknowledged that he was part of the problem – that a stubbornness and unwillingness to change the way he'd play before as the NHL game became ever faster was a contributing factor to his exit from the league.
In Germany, he changed his training habits, lost weight and believes he has become faster. Whether he is actually fast enough remains to be seen. For the moment, he is a non-roster player, and will travel with the team Saturday to Colorado. A decision on whether to sign him to a contract for the rest of the season will be made after they evaluate the state of his game.
Even if Murray does sign, he would not be eligible to play in the NHL playoffs.