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Nazem Kadri will be held out of the Maple Leafs' next two games with team president Brendan Shanahan saying the team is cracking down on issues with the 24-year-old centre

The Canadian Press

This was never about Nazem Kadri being late to one morning meeting.

That was how the Maple Leafs young centre had wanted it to come off when he was benched on Monday and met with the media. That's not how it'll be remembered after president Brendan Shanahan's comments two days later.

The Leafs have suspended Kadri for two more games for an as-yet-undescribed incident that took place on Sunday before practice. Their season is already lost so that might seem like an empty gesture, but in the fishbowl that is Toronto, it won't be.

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It'll be big. It'll be memorable.

And the organization is adamant it would have happened regardless of where they were in the standings.

"There's more to this, obviously," Shanahan said. "If this were just a case of Nazem being 15 minutes late for a meeting, one time, yes then you could probably sweep this under the rug and handle this internally. And then you take the guys out to lunch or something like that [to make amends]."

No one around the team is revealing what exactly happened on Sunday. Shanahan explained that he met with the Leafs captains and informed them of the punishment, but the entire team was already aware of the drama when Kadri was a no-show for a team meeting.

Leafs coach Peter Horachek has now twice referenced an incident in Nashville where Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn were out partying into the wee hours the night before a playoff game.

There have been fairly loud whispers from Leafs management for years that they weren't happy with Kadri's professionalism, but this is the first time those concerns have come out publicly.

It's a calculated decision.

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"There comes a point, in the careers of many hockey players in similar situations, where you've got to grow up," Shanahan said. "This is not something that we felt would benefit him if we swept it under the rug."

The hope in the organization is that this public shaming will push Kadri to change his ways. The last thing the Leafs want is a situation like what happened in Philadelphia, with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, or Boston, with Tyler Seguin, where hugely talented players thrived after being moved for off-ice partying issues.

Richards and Carter have since won two Stanley Cups in California. Seguin, 23, was one of the NHL's leading scorers prior to a knee injury taking him out of the Art Ross running this season.

At 24, Kadri is one of the most talented players the Leafs have to build around. The easiest move here would have been to keep Sunday's incident quiet and try to move him in the off-season, but there's such a strong internal belief that he can be part of the solution, Shanahan didn't want to go that route.

He wants to reform Kadri, not give up on him.

"Naz is an important part of our future," Shanahan said. "We like Nazem Kadri. His teammates like him. We expect a certain level of professionalism. It's time for him to start making better decisions. There's a history here.

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"We need this to be a real learning moment," he later added.

The only one who knows if it will be is Kadri. He has been called cocky and overconfident almost from Day 1 when he was drafted seventh overall six years ago, and multiple coaches have had a hard time reaching him.

But that confidence has also made him popular with teammates, and he's become one of the Leafs best players in this lost season, evolving into an effective second line centre who provides hints of more.

Now he has a Hall of Famer with a decorated, successful career as a mentor – one who is telling him that his behaviour isn't acceptable – and a suspension that will be headline news for days in the biggest media market in the league.

The Leafs want this to work, and the opportunity in front of Kadri is immense, given the way will likely be cleared for him to play on the top line next season.

They believe there's a lot of good in Nazem Kadri; they just want to excise the bad.

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This is probably the best way to do it.

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