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.

Penguins push Capitals to brink of elimination with OT win

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The Pittsburgh Penguins ended a long run of playoff overtime struggles on Wednesday … and are now one win away from ending the Washington Capitals’ season.

Many expected the Penguins to crater on defense without Kris Letang (they were 2-8-1 in the regular season without him). While there were shaky moments, Pittsburgh emphasized its speed and other strengths in taking a 3-2 overtime thriller against Washington.

With that, the Penguins’ series lead grows to 3-1.

It was a thrilling, sometimes nasty contest, from Sidney Crosby shaking off an Alex Ovechkin slash, to Evgeni Malkin delivering a hit some thought was over the line and plenty of typical playoff skirmishes.

Ultimately, Matt Murray played another strong game and Patric Hornqvist scored the overtime-winner to put the Capitals in a tough spot.

The Penguins lost their previous eight playoff overtime games, so maybe it was just a matter of time before such a game went their way?

Then again, the history between the two teams is a little different:

If the Capitals want to advance beyond the second round for the first time in the Ovechkin era, they’ll need to accomplish quite the feat against arguably the hottest team in the NHL.

Sidney Crosby looks hurt (and furious) after Alex Ovechkin slash

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NBCSN screen
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Sidney Crosby is known to get fiery, but even for his feisty standards, he was furious during the third period of Game 4.

An Alex Ovechkin slash caught Crosby on the hand, leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins star shaking his mitt and pleading for a call.

After that, Crosby left to get his hand looked at … but not before flipping out and destroying his stick.

You can watch it happen in the GIF and the videos above.

Crosby was able to return not that long after that moment, although we can only speculate regarding how his overall game will be affected if his hand isn’t 100 percent.

Dirty or not? Evgeni Malkin’s hit on Daniel Winnik

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Tensions seem to rise with every passing game in the playoffs, particularly in a series with bad blood like the one between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

Kris Letang was suspended for his hit in Game 3, and some wonder if Evgeni Malkin should suffer a similar fate for his check on Daniel Winnik on Wednesday.

Winnik left the contest and has not yet returned during the third period.

Take a look at the hit in the video above and decide for yourself.

Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires

An evacuee puts gas in his car on his way out of Fort McMurray, Alberta, as a wildfire burns in the background Wednesday, May 4, 2016. The raging wildfire emptied Canada's main oil sands city, destroying entire neighborhoods of Fort McMurray, where officials warned Wednesday that all efforts to suppress the fire have failed.  (Jason Franson /The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
AP
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Fires devastated the Canadian city of Fort McMurray, and the St. Louis Blues are doing their part to help those who were affected.

Here’s what the team is doing to raise money during Game 4 against the Dallas Stars:

Proceeds raised through the team’s 50/50 raffle and the Blues for Kids silent auction will benefit families who have been misplaced by the fires.

Blues forward Scottie Upshall shared his thoughts with the Associated Press regarding several family members being among those evacuated from the area.

“It’s been a great city, a city that’s survived for many years through some tough times and for me, growing up there doesn’t seem too long ago,” Upshall said. “Places that probably aren’t standing anymore will be really, really tough to take. But as long as everyone’s OK, that’s the main thing.”

Other people from around the hockey world weighed in on the scary scene, including Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Phillips, who told the Ottawa Citizen that “it hurts a lot.”

People shared some scary sights from the evacuation.