Should the Maple Leafs be more patient with prospect Nazem Kadri?

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nazemkadriunderpressure.jpgPressure can bring out the best in an athlete, but it can also be a very negative thing too. Especially for a young player still trying to learn how to adjust to all of the challenges that come with making the jump to the professional level.

You cannot find a bigger pressure cooker for a young hockey player than Toronto. The team has been an absolute mess since the lockout and haven’t had much young star power to cling to. (Just look at how Luke Schenn is going from an overly praised talent to someone who is starting to drop out of favor among the Maple Leafs.)

This explains all of the hysteria regarding 2009 first round draft pick Nazem Kadri’s tough times. Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun points out that Kadri was demoted from a line alongside NHL-level additions Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg to a combination of minor league-level players. He adds this very troubling quote from Leafs coach Ron Wilson and makes a hypothesis about Kadri’s struggles.

With Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Christian Hanson and John Mitchell all in the fight for centre spots, Kadri has been less effective than all of hem.

“He needs to realize the battle he’s in,” Wilson said after the Leafs’ 3-2 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

“We’re not giving him the job. He has to outperform at least two or three of those four to earn a spot.”

[snip]

The KADRI QUANDARY

So what gives with the player that looked so offensively gifted a year ago? No fire. No flash. No fury. Kadri is clearly playing tentatively, which stifles his offensive skill. Case in point: On a first-period two-on-one, rather than taking a clear open shot, Kadri dished off to Versteeg with a telegraph pass that was far too late … Wilson has no choice but to look at options now. Versteeg has been flying in both of his pre-season games and can no longer be held back. Armstrong, meanwhile, is as advertised — a guy who will go in the corner and get the puck and needs to have a useful centre. To that end, changes are coming, starting with Friday’s return match with the Flyers. For one game anyway, Versteeg is likely to move to a line with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel while Nikolai Kulemin shifts to a unit with Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur … For most of the third period, Tim Brent replaced Kadri between Armstrong and Versteeg … Wilson on Kadri’s better play in the third: “Maybe when I didn’t have him on (that line), it lit a fire under his rear end and he realized I’m serious and I’m not going to wait for him to get going.” … Naz on Naz: “By all means I haven’t made the team yet. I’m not expecting anyone to just give me the silver spoon and just hand me a job.”

While many people are growing quite pessimistic about Kadri, noted Edmonton Oilers blogger Lowetide turns the tables and critiques the Maple Leafs for their impatience with young prospects.

I think Kadri will be a good player. He’s gritty, clearly has skill and could develop into a quality 2-way player. But not with Toronto. They get so damn impatient with these kids. It’s pretty fricking strange that they can’t figure it out, but there it is in all its glory. In the next 5 years, we’ll see Kadri struggle, get sent down and sent away for less than 100 cents on the dollar. Look at Luke Schenn, failing down the depth chart and perhaps one summer from being flushed. Rask, Steen, Colaiacovo, Boyes and on it goes.

Ouch, I imagine Leafs fans squirm any time they read the name “Tuukka Rask.” Then again, sometimes you need to learn the hard way, so perhaps Brian Burke and Wilson should take caution with a player who might just need a little breathing room and seasoning in the minors.

The problem is that patience isn’t found in large quantities when it comes to the Leafs.

Alex Burrows fined $5,000 for roughing

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Alex Burrows won’t be on Dylan DeMelo‘s Christmas card list this year.

Not after Burrows swiped DeMelo in the face with the butt-end of his stick on Saturday night.

Burrows got slapped with a $5,000 fine for roughing on Sunday night, the maximum permissible under the CBA. The money is one thing, but Burrows and the Senators have bigger issues at the moment.

It didn’t help the little incident happened in the third period and the game all but over for the Senators. Here’s the slow-mo shot of the infraction:

Burrows’ $5,000 goes to the player’s Emergency Assistance Fund.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Is it a slump or is regression setting in for the Winnipeg Jets?

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Might regression be hitting the Winnipeg Jets at the moment?

It’s a question Jets fans are asking themselves after a three-game road trip that produced just a single point and a goose egg in the win column.

It’s the first time the Jets have lost three straight all season. In year’s past, this wouldn’t have come as much surprise, but the Jets have thrown the status quo out the window this season and have sung a different tune.

The analytics would suggest the Jets were due for a fall back to earth.

For most of the season, they’ve been near the bottom of the league in terms of Corsi, with only recently climbing up that ladder with a help of a very lopsided game against the Ottawa Senators.

Regression in goal is also starting to happen, and a lot of Winnipeg’s early-season success had to do with how well Connor Hellebuyck had been playing.

Hellebuyck has been sensational most of the season and his 15-3-4  record supports that. But his save percentage has been trending in the wrong direction lately. In five of his past six starts, Hellebuyck has only achieved a .900 save percentage or better once, and that came in that 5-0 shutout against the Senators.

Nov. 27 vs MIN: .895
Nov. 29 vs COL: .885
Dec. 1 vs VGK: .871
Dec. 3 vs. OTT: 1.000
Dec. 5 vs DET: .844
Dec. 9 vs TBL: .857

The Jets give up a lot of shots, so the odds that Hellebuyck’s early season numbers would survive throughout the year were low.

The sky is by no means falling in Winnipeg. The Jets showed they can go toe-to-toe with the league’s best on Saturday. Overtime has just been the bane of their existence this season with a 0-5 record in free hockey.

The Jets touched the summit of the Western Conference last week, a pipe dream around these parts in recent times. They also possess two of the league’s top point-producers (Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler) and one of the league’s top goal scorers (Patrik Laine), not to mention having a rookie just outside top 10 in rookie scoring (Kyle Connor).

Prior to the road trip, Winnipeg’s power play had scored eight times in 19 attempts.

The Jets have also been largely healthy. Defenseman Toby Enstrom is the midst of an eight-week spell in the press box — and there’s a pending diagnosis coming for Dustin Byfuglien after he left Saturday’s game in Tampa Bay with a lower-body injury — but the Jets gotten by relatively unscathed thus far and managed well when Mathieu Perreault and Adam Lowry missed several games.

The Jets have made too many strides this season to regress too far away from where they are right now. Asking a team to go from outside the playoff line to tops in the division might be asking a tad too much. But with that said, the Jets are simply a good team these days and stacked with high-level talent.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Calgary Hitmen fans make 24K stuffed animals fly during Teddy Bear Toss (Video)

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Congratulations, Vladislav Yeryomenko, you were this year’s Teddy Bear Toss goal scorer for the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.

Yeryomenko’s goal at 9:36 of the first period during their game Sunday vs. the Moose Jaw Warriors was the sign for Hitmen fans to launch their teddy bears inside the Saddledome. Boy, it sure did rain plenty of fur.

Here’s what it looked like:

And here’s a fan’s eye view:

After a clean up delay of approximately 40 minutes , the game resumed but the Hitmen would fall to the Warriors 6-3. The counting, as you would imagine, took some time, but when they were finished it was announced that an astounding 24,605 stuffed animals were collected, which will go to 60 local charities.

“It’s an unforgettable moment,” Yeryomenko said via the Hitmen website. “It’s possible it can only happen once in your life and it happened to me. I enjoyed the moment of it all.”

There were 23,924 stuffed animals tossed during last year’s game, and the Hitmen hold the record of 28,815 bears, which was set in 2015.

The Hitmen have been holding this event since 1995 and are their fans are the true leaders in tossing those bears. Including this Sunday’s total, the team has collected 347,948 stuffed animals for local charities. Just last weekend the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears held their Toss event and fans there set a team record with an impressive 25,017 stuffed animals hitting the ice.

This once again proves that the Teddy Bear Toss is the greatest promotion in all of sports.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Brayden Schenn scoring at will as domination continues

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What’s the limit for Brayden Schenn?

Curious and inquiring minds, like PHT’s own James O’Brien, want to know. 

Add Schenn’s opposition to the list of people looking for answers. They surely want the madness to end.

But Schenn appears disinterested in letting cooler heads prevail. He is, of course, red hot at the moment. And he’s quickly turning into a fearsome goal scorer that is increasingly harder to contain.

Schenn buried his 16th of the season on Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres some 40 seconds into the game. The goal, which can be seen below, was Schenn’s sixth in his past four games and a marker than extended his goal-scoring streak to four games.

Some wondered how Schenn would cope with the loss of Jaden Schwartz, who is out for at least six weeks because of an ankle injury. 

He answered that in under a minute.

Coming into Sunday’s game, Schenn was on pace for 41 goals and 98 points. He’d crush his previous career highs if his torrid play continues.

For the time being, Schenn is the leading candidate for the top off-season acquisition in the NHL.

How bad is Ron Hextall kicking himself at the moment? A few months ago he had Schenn and didn’t have Jori Lehtera.

The cringe faces must be excellent. Surely.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck