Farewell to Nazem Kadri. And to three years of guts, glory and honesty

Jun 26, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri (91) celebrates with the Stanley Cup trophy after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning during game six of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When Nazem Kadri laid motionless on the ice following a vicious hit from Evander Kane in the early moments of a Western Conference Final battle, it felt his time with the Avalanche had abruptly come to an end.

The writing was on the wall that Kadri, who just months prior fired his agent in favor of Darren Ferris — a hard-nosed negotiator — was presumably playing out his final season with Colorado ahead of what could be his only chance at cashing in as a free agent. The injury likely proved to be too severe to return from.

Kadri did end up signing a lucrative deal with a new team. The Calgary Flames will be his home for the next seven years. But in regards to that moment being his last in an Avalanche sweater?

“Ya we’ll see.”

The 31-year-old missed just four games after sharing those words on an Instagram post stating his season was over after suffering a broken thumb.

He returned in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final and scored easily the biggest goal of his career in overtime to lift the Avs to a 3-1 series lead over the two-time defending Cup champions. What felt like the end turned out to be the equivalent of a pause in the midst of a chapter book.

All because of those three believable words he shared on social media.

What makes Kadri such a fascinating player isn’t just the fire he plays with on the ice. It’s not just his skill or well-liked demeanor. Rather it’s the believability in everything he says. In an era where players often take the high road in interviews, keep to themselves in their private life and go through years of PR training to avoid stepping out of line — Kadri chooses to do, well, quite the opposite.

He values honesty and respect from the media and fans and he’s well aware that it’s a two-way street — one where honesty is also expected from him. And it’s exactly what he gave Colorado Avalanche faithful during his storied three-year tenure with the club.

When the Avs acquired the former Toronto Maple Leaf fan favorite, the goal was to plug him in as the No. 2 center behind burgeoning star Nathan MacKinnon. It would give the Avs, along with a suddenly deep defense core and sturdy goaltending, all the pieces necessary to make a Cup run.

He was honest with everyone from the start that he preferred to stay in Toronto — even kyboshing a trade to, coincidentally, the Flames, earlier that summer. But the fire was lit inside of him to prove the naysayers wrong. It wasn’t the first time, and given the way his Avs tenure played out, it certainly wasn’t going to be the last time.

That 2019 trade proved to be the start of many glorious moments shared between Kadri and his now former club.

First goal

Kadri’s first goal with Colorado came in the fourth game of the 2019-20 regular season. After being held without a point in each of his first three appearances, Kadri picked up the rebound of a Cale Makar shot from the point on the power play and put it top shelf past the goalie.

It was a beauty that saw him dipsy doodle past defenseman Jordan Oesterle in the process. But the celebration was far more meaningful. Kadri turned to the home crowd with his hands in the air and pounded his chest almost as if to say, “this is home now.”

“It’s okay to not be a Toronto Maple Leaf. It’s okay to be a Colorado Avalanche.”

Personal connection

On a personal level, Kadri’s time with the Avalanche was meaningful for me. He was acquired the same summer I made the move to Colorado to cover this team for Mile High Sports.

Kadri, the son of immigrants Samir and Sue, is Muslim and of Lebanese descent. His openness in discussing his religion, culture and all the things that make him unique in an otherwise predominately white sport is inspiring. In December 2019, I sat down with Kadri to chat about our similarities.

I got to learn more about his family, his upbringing and his love for Mediterranean food (fatayer and grape leaves are his favorites, by the way). We also got to discuss his wedding.

Kadri held a traditional Lebanese wedding in Ontario in 2018 and celebrated with his Maple Leafs teammates. He also hired a Lebanese singer to lead the party, complete with traditional dancing in the form of the zaffee and the dabke.

Everything about that sitdown with Kadri, which happened in the Avalanche locker room at Family Sports Center, was a highlight of my young career. I wrote a story about the entire thing. Which you can read here.

Fighting Ryan Lindgren

Widely known for his willingness to drop the gloves when needed, Kadri took center stage in perhaps his most memorable bout in three years against Ryan Lindgren.

The young Rangers defenseman had just lit up former Av Jonas Donskoi along the boards and had to answer the bell. Kadri unleashed rights on Lindgren, leaving him bloodied in the face as he went off to serve his five-minute major.

Sticking up for a teammate is often a right of passage in a dressing room. It’s how hockey players immerse themselves among their group. Kadri understood what needed to be done and took on a tough customer.

Buzzer beater

Before the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs began, you could argue this was far and away Kadri’s biggest goal with the Avs.

Playing in their first game since the COVID pause, the Avalanche took on division rival St. Louis Blues in the one-off round-robin concept that was used to determine playoff positioning. With the game tied at 1-1 and Colorado swarming, Kadri put the rebound past goalie Jordan Binnington with just 0.1 seconds remaining.

Binnington and the Blues were rattled. And this isn’t the only time they’d be remembered in Kadri’s time with the Avalanche.

Raising money for Lebanon

The tally against the Blues was the start of what has been Kadri’s highest production in any playoff year to date. Kadri finished with nine goals and 18 points, including six power-play tallies and five game-winners. But in the midst of the once-in-a-lifetime bubble playoffs in Edmonton, Kadri still had his mind elsewhere.

Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut was struggling with the aftermath of an explosion on the Beirut pier. More than 200 casualties were accounted for and the damages left hundreds of thousands homeless. While in the bubble, Kadri and his Nazem Kadri Foundation teamed with the Humanitarian Coalition, raising upwards of $10 million for the Lebanese people.

Changing his reputation following 2021 suspension

In another example of speaking his mind and sharing his truth, Kadri’s eight-game suspension in the 2021 playoffs left no stone unturned. When Kadri was handed the lengthy suspension, he quickly appealed to both NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and independent arbitrator Shyam Das.

Kadri was adamant about getting his feelings across. That this time around, his suspension was a hockey play gone wrong. He felt it wasn’t an immature player losing his cool in the heat of a battle — rather it was a miscalculated play, a poorly timed hit on an unexpected player.

Kadri’s suspension was upheld on both occasions and he served the entirety of it and watched as his teammates lost four straight to the Vegas Golden Knights in Round 2 after taking a 2-0 series lead. But it didn’t end there. Over the next 12 months, Kadri remained outspoken about how it all unfolded. He worked tirelessly on and off the ice to erase a reputation that, deservedly so, plagued his career in some ways.

He spoke in his Players Tribune piece about what the suspension had done to him and his family. The sleepless nights, the feeling that an unfair punishment was being handed to him to set an example. He spoke candidly about how he knew he could, and would bounce back. He spoke about how those that doubted him would regret it. And those that stayed in his corner would be rewarded.

But most importantly, his actions and his playoff output in 2022 matched the message he was conveying. He no longer wanted to be known for playoff suspensions. He was successful at that.

Resiliency in St. Louis

In the aftermath of another run-in (literally) with Binnington and the Blues, one that saw Kadri collide with the goalie and knock him out of the playoffs, Kadri was tasked with real-life adversity.

His social media mentions were flooded with racism and hateful, Islamophobic insults from Blues fans and other internet trolls. He even received numerous death threats. It led to heightened security as the NHL and both the Avalanche and Blues organizations employed enhanced security forces amid an ongoing investigation of the death threats Kadri had received.

Kadri was able to fend off the racist comments, keep his cool on and off the ice, and responded with his first career playoff hat trick in St. Louis to give Colorado a commanding 3-1 series lead in Round 2. He celebrated one of his goals by mocking the Blues crowd, placing his hand on his ear as Binnington watched from the press box.

It was a moment that would define the character he’s built not just in Denver, but throughout his entire career.

The final seconds 

Despite being unable to take faceoffs in the Stanley Cup Final and looking shaky and inconsistent given the severity of his injury, Avs coach Jared Bednar still relied heavily on Kadri in defensive situations. Kadri was on the ice in the final moments of Game 6 to help Colorado fend off a desperate Tampa Bay Lightning attack to protect a 2-1 lead.

It was fitting for Kadri to be relied on in this way. Those final seconds made the entire recovery process in June worthwhile.

Inspiring an entire community

After Kadri raised the Cup with such vigor, he and the rest of the players’ families were invited onto the ice to celebrate. Kadri shared a special moment with his parents and wife Ashley, putting an exclamation point on a successful 12-month redemption story.

Kadri would later celebrate his day with the Cup in his hometown of London, Ontario. He was not only the first Muslim player to win the Stanley Cup, but he also was the first to bring it to a mosque.

And he did so just 14 months after London was at the forefront of a hate crime where a Muslim family of five was mauled down by a truck driver in an apparent racially motivated attack. Four of the family members died.

Of all the on-ice moments he had, none measured up to this powerful off-ice moment. Kadri inspired the Muslim community in London and reached thousands of others worldwide.

 

“I love you guys”

His final message to Avalanche faithful and the city of Denver was at the parade on June 30. Kadri’s excitement took center stage once again as he was introduced to thousands of fans outside the capitol building in Denver.

An elated Kadri jumped up and down as he took the podium, taking in a moment he never dreamed he’d live. And he capped it off with four words that came from the bottom of his heart.

Four words that meant the world to him after a memorable 36 months.

“I love you guys.”

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Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif

Listen to “Post-Kadri Era Begins” on Spreaker.

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