The National Hockey League has announced that Toronto Maple Leafs centre Nazem Kadri has been suspended three games for his elbow to the head of Minnesota Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom, meaning he will be out of the lineup until no sooner than November 21st.
This hit has caused a lot of debate. Many were clamouring for a match penalty (which Kadri would later get for a hit on Mikael Granlund), but the NHL’s rulebook only calls for such a move in hits where there was an deliberate attempt to injure a player. It’s hard to argue against Kadri having an intent to make contact, but an actual attempt at injury may be a reach.
As for the suspension? As much as Leafs fans didn’t want to see it, it does make sense. Kadri’s elbow is aiming and was successfully able to make Backstrom’s head the principle point of contact. There was no attempt to move away from Backstrom, and as such, a punishment of this severity makes sense.
Many will chirp back with "hey, Reimer gets run all the time!" or "what about when this wasn’t called", but the reality is that you can’t ask for Player Safety to continue to make unwise choices to make previous ones seem sensible.
What Does This Mean?
The Leafs currently have Jay McClement and Jerred Smithson as their top two natural centres, and now need to call up somebody (one of Trevor Smith or Greg McKegg) to fill a gap.
Is It Time To Panic?
Is It Time To Make A Panic Move?
Well, no. These three games are going to be stressful, but lets be honest; most of the season has been already. In a week, Kadri will be back from his suspension and Tyler Bozak will be eligible to be activated from the injured reserve. There’s still the matter of filling the void of Bolland at the three slot, but due diligence can be taken.
As I’ve stated before, with no high quality centres on the market, and the Leafs being in a known position of "desperation", the cost on acquiring anybody will be high. Combine that with low cap flexibility, and it would likely take a huge shakeup to bring somebody in.
The safest move for now? In my opinion, it would be call up McKegg and hope that his below 0.5 PPG pace with the Marlies can be curbed into something better with higher quality linemates for the next week or so. In the mean time, Kadri will take the next week to think long and hard about whether he wants to be as reckless as he was last night from this point on.