The redemption narrative is the easy one. Everyone loves it, and it usually writes itself, which is why writers will flock to it at every opportunity (especially hockey writers who by the time the Stanley Cup Final is over are barely sober enough to find their hotel room key), and it feels good to anyone reading it. Probably because we’re all shitheads in some way and like to read or hear about people overcoming their particular kind of shitheadedness to achieve something we never will. That’s a main crux of sports right there.
Nazem Kadri already had his redemption arc. He already had his boss moment this spring. It came when St. Louis Blues fans, that ever so classy throng that still questions indoor plumbing as a tool of the devil, showered social media, and Kadri’s feeds especially, with racist taunts and threats. And then Kadri walked into Kiel Center or whatever the fuck it’s called for those four hours and scored a hat trick and basically ended that second round series.
But there is no period, there is no underline quite like the Stanley Cup. Hockey still can’t quite reconcile how authoritative being part of a Cup champion is or not. It has gotten a lot of morons jobs upon jobs, and complete plugs as players very rich in contracts. Even with that, getting to say you’ve raised the Chalice over your head is still the ultimate PHONE CALL OVER.
Even beyond that sea of shit from Blues fans that Kadri and those close to him had to wade through, he’s had to eat more than enough excrement before. And I wrote some of it. I still maintain Kadri cost the Avs their second round series last year against the Knights, where their complete lack of a second line cost them. A second line he anchored. Kadri was suspended for the remainder of the 2019 series against the Bruins when he was a Leaf. The Leafs lost in 7. Would his presence have made a difference in that coinflip of a series?
That’s in the past now. What Kadri is under no responsibility to recognize is that the frustration he caused came from an appreciation of just how special a player he is. Or at least it was in some circles. He’s one of the most demonic checking centers a coach can throw at any of the league’s premier scorers, and watch swallow them up. Even with one hand when he returned in this series, he ran a 70 percent expected goals percentage. And he can do all that while being a major offensive threat, as his 87 points in 71 regular season games would attest. Or his OT winner in Game 4 when he could barely grip his stick, much less come up with a shot that beat the best playoff goalie of all time clean (which is what Andrei Vasilevskiy is).
But again, whatever justification I or any other of Kadri’s critics come up with doesn’t matter before we pucker up but good. Kadri will hit unrestricted free agency this summer and get a very rich deal. He will cause Leafs fans to toss and turn for years, even more than they already do, in their outwardly tortured existence they broadcast with the world’s biggest bullhorn at the thought that they drummed him out of town for the bounty of Tyson Barrie, a guy the Leafs moved on from in just one year. And Toronto remains running in place, forever grasping at the horizon from the first round. Kadri has a ring.
I’ll pucker up, Naz. I said you were a liability. And yet your arrival in Denver turned the Avs into a juggernaut, one that was rewarded properly last night. You may not be a lead guitarist, but you’re one of the best rhythm guitarists in the NHL. Show me those cheeks, I’m ready.