The education of Nazem Kadri took another step Monday at the expense of Mikhail Grabovski.
Kadri, 22, moved up to second-line centre at the Toronto Maple Leafs' practice on Monday with linemates Joffrey Lupul and Matt Frattin, while Grabovski was handed one of the red sweaters earmarked for the third line, toiling between Clarke MacArthur and Colton Orr. Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle cautioned the media not to jump to any conclusions about the switch, but he also admitted something needs to be done with the Leafs in a five-game winless streak.
"I think with where we're at, with the consistency or inconsistency we play with at times, we're subject to change from day to day but I don't like change," Carlyle said. "I would rather not have to change people or move people around. It's a clear indication at times that we're not playing the way we need to play.
"If we're not getting the desired result from matchups of two people we put together, we're not averse to putting other people in there. "
Grabovski, 29, was signed last spring to a five-year contract extension at an annual salary-cap hit of $5.5-million (all currency U.S.) that was to reflect his status as the second-line centre, has a mere 11 points in 29 games. In his last six games, Grabovski has all of one assist.
It can be argued at least part of Grabovski's troubles are due to the increased defensive role Carlyle gave him this season but he has never taken advantage of the offensive opportunities the coach allowed him.
At the same time, as a developing player Kadri was protected from having to play against other team's top lines so this, too, meant more defensive work for Grabovski. Which has certainly worked out well for Kadri, at any rate. Grabovski, on the other hand, sat on the bench Saturday night while 10 of his teammates were selected to shoot ahead of him in a 5-4 shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Carlyle insisted Monday that his shootout order was based purely on past performance in the discipline.
Kadri is tied with Phil Kessel at the top of the Leafs' points race with 27. When Lupul returned Saturday from his 25-game absence due to a broken arm he was paired with Kadri. While he likes the idea of more ice time as the second-line centre, Kadri is aware it means more attention from better players.
"I'm always looking to get myself in situations where [Carlyle] trusts me even more and I can get those extra minutes," Kadri said. "Playing with [Lupul], guys are probably going to key on him a bit more. Defencemen are going to try and take away our time and space and that's where we've got to counter."
Carlyle conducted a tough practice that lasted more than 90 minutes with lots of skating for the Leafs, who had Sunday off and do not play again until Wednesday night when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit the Air Canada Centre. There were also some harsh words for the players when they did not do a forechecking drill to the coach's liking, although the session appeared to end on a friendly note.
The coach insisted the skating was not the usual bag-skate conducted by coaches angry over a team's play but a necessary thing because of the gap between games.
"If you expect your players to give you 110 per cent they have to be rested and take care of themselves," Carlyle said. "With this break it gives us another opportunity to do another skate. By no means was this a punishment skate; that's not what we're about."
He also brushed off his anger with the players, noting the drill went well once they grasped what he wanted. The eruption was definitely minor in scale compared to a few of the tantrums former Leafs head coach John Brophy threw back in the late 1980s.
"I moved on though," Caryle said. "I was just a little frustrated with the way the drill was going. We weren't getting anything accomplished so I brought them over. I noticed the building got awful quiet so you guys [the media] could hear every word."