Mike Babcock is ready to forge on without Nazem Kadri.
The Maple Leafs coach, with Game 3 of the opening round of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Boston Bruins looming on Monday night, knows he has no choice.
Kadri is facing a suspension after cross-checking Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk in the head/face in the third period of Boston’s 4-1 win at TD Garden on Saturday night. Kadri, a repeat offender, was offered an in-person hearing by the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety not long after the game ended.
As the Leafs waited to learn of Kadri’s fate on Sunday, Babcock spoke to reporters on a conference call during the noon hour and lamented the situation in which Kadri, and in the bigger picture the Leafs, find themselves in the best-of-seven series.
This, of course, comes after Kadri was suspended for three games in the first round against the Bruins last year after he hit Bruins forward Tommy Wingels along the boards in Game 1.
“It’s disappointing for Naz, disappointing for our team,” Babcock said. “One of our (strengths) is depth through the middle and Naz is a good player in these type of things.
“Any time you cross the line, though, you have a chance to let someone else make the decision whether you play or not. So the way I look at it here today is we can’t worry about that now, just have to move on.”
Babcock reiterated that either William Nylander or Patrick Marleau would move to centre (with healthy scratch Tyler Ennis likely drawing in), but the coach was in no mood to reveal who would slide over, saying we’ll know at the morning skate on Monday at Scotiabank Arena.
The refereeing of Brad Meier and Trevor Hanson in Game 2 wasn’t good, for either the Leafs or the Bruins, and Babcock had an interesting answer when asked whether he was surprised with what was not called during the game.
“Each and every night you get a set of four officials,” Babcock said. “They are no different than the teams. They’re trying to advance (in the playoffs).
“They eliminate officials as they go, they have people who watch them and decide whether they are the right people to move on.
“For me to sit back the next day and evaluate that, that’s not in my control. We just have to get our team ready to play.”
What might have kept Babcock up last night after the Leafs returned home was the fact that Kadri hasn’t learned from past transgressions. The 28-year-old has been suspended four times by the NHL, twice for three games and twice for four games.
If Babcock can trust Kadri — who is under contract through the 2021-22 season with an annual average salary of US$4.5 million — we aren’t sure how.
There is the possibility that Babcock won’t have to worry about that until next season if the Leafs are ousted by the Bruins, considering the length of suspension that many expect.
Is Babcock disappointed that Kadri apparently has not learned much?
“I’m not spending a whole lot of time on that,” Babcock said. “There is nothing I can do about it now. When you prepare your team, you try to prepare them for all situations, so you don’t cross the line. I think you have to play real hard. I think you have to look after yourself but you can’t cross the line.
“Any time you leave decisions in someone else’s hands, then it’s not within your control. I think in anything in life, you want to be in control and you have to own everything. You have to own your play, you have to own your discipline, you have to own what’s going on.
“In the end, Naz has someone else making decisions whether he is playing or not.”
The Kadri issue aside, Babcock has enough on his plate heading into Game 3. The Leafs, dominant in a 4-1 win in Game 1, had the tables turned in Game 2 and couldn’t do anything right as the Bruins were relentless and took advantage of miscues to score three of their goals. The fourth, by Patrice Bergeron, came during Kadri’s major for decking DeBrusk.
“We need to get into them instead of letting them get into us,” Babcock said. “Getting off to that start and establishing your game first and just playing harder.
“I thought they played harder than we did last night, I thought we played harder than them the night before. The series is now a best of five, it’s in our building, we need to establish our game first tomorrow.”