Calgary Flames, Nazem Kadri, Ryan Huska

Why the Flames Need Nazem Kadri’s Competitive Edge 

When I first began to cover the Toronto Maple Leafs for The Hockey Writers almost five years ago now, Nazem Kadri was the third-line center on a blossoming Maple Leafs team. He was a polarizing player even then. During the playoffs against the Boston Bruins, he just couldn’t seem to keep his anger in check and play measured hockey. 

An egregious major penalty for a vicious cross-check to the head of Bruins’ Jake DeBrusk led to Kadri being suspended for the rest of his team’s opening-round 2019 Playoffs series. This seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back with Toronto, and they traded him on July 1, 2019, to the Colorado Avalanche.

Kadri survived and prospered. He went on to win a Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2022.

Reasons Why Kadri Can Be Loved and Hated 

Kadri is one of those players who can be both loved and despised by fans. A combination of factors related to his on-ice behavior that have resulted in disciplinary issues. There are several reasons why his play has generated both praise and criticism. Let me lay out the critiques with comments.

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs: Revisiting the Nazem Kadri Trade

First, Kadri plays the role of an agitator, getting under the skin of opponents and engaging in verbal and physical battles on the ice. While some appreciate this style as part of the game’s psychological warfare, others see it as unsportsmanlike. His physical style of play and willingness to engage in battles along the boards and in front of the net can be an asset, but it has also led to questionable hits and actions that resulted in penalties and suspensions. Some fans love his tenacity, while others see it as a liability.

Nazem Kadri
Former Toronto Maple Leafs’ player Nazem Kadri
(THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michael Dwyer)

Second, some of Kadri’s hits have been highly controversial. Are they clean or dirty? These incidents regularly spark discussions among the hockey community and fans, contributing to his polarizing reputation. As a result of such hits, Kadri has faced multiple suspensions and fines throughout his career. His actions have often been considered detrimental to player safety. These incidents have drawn negative attention and raised concerns about his on-ice discipline.

Third, Kadri is nothing if not an emotional player. The high level of emotion he plays with can be a two-edged sword. Yes, passion and intensity are celebrated in hockey. However, Kadri’s emotional outbursts, including confrontations with opponents and officials, draw criticism from many who believe he must better control his emotions. The flip side of that emotion is that Kadri is a (sometimes violently) loyal team player. 

Related: Kadri Latest Flame to Become Frustrated with Sutter

Fourth, despite any controversy about his play, Kadri’s been productive. He contributes offensively and has earned a reputation as a reliable scorer. This two-sided aspect of his game has contributed to differing opinions about his overall value as a player.

Now With the Flames, Kadri Has a Supporter in Coach Huska

Last season, Kadri was signed by the Calgary Flames. Although 2022-23 was far from the best season the Flames have ever had, with Darryl Sutter now on his Alberta farm full-time, the coming season seems to be filled with new possibilities. Ryan Huska has taken over as the new Flames coach; given his recent interview, you can tell that he’s a full-time Kadri supporter.

In that interview, seen below, he speaks about the influences that Kadri brings to this Flames team when he’s performing at his best.

Number One: Kadri Brings a Competitive Spirit

For Huska, one aspect that stands out about Kadri is his fierce competitiveness. He plays each game with an unrelenting desire to win, and this drive can be felt by his teammates on the ice. Losing is something that Kadri despises, and he’s absolutely determined to come out on top. His coach believes that attitude is contagious among his teammates.

Number Two: Size Doesn’t Define Kadri

Kadri might not fit the mold of the modern, towering NHL player. He’s smaller in terms of size. However, his tenacity and style of play more than compensate for any lack of size he brings. As noted earlier, he’s willing to get involved physically and ready to engage in battles along the boards every play. This makes him a force to be reckoned with. 

Related: Flames’ Huberdeau & Kadri Must Bounce Back

Huska also notes that Kadri has the remarkable ability to catch opponents off guard with his physicality and strength. That sneaky-strong streak adds an aspect of unpredictability to his game.

Number Three: Kadri Has a High-Level Skill Set

Huska believes Kadri’s skill set is high. When he’s operating at his peak, his ability shines through. His finesse on the ice and his knack for making head-shaking plays are remarkable. Huska pointed out that Kadri’s recent performances show his impressive skill level. He has the ability to execute great hockey plays and score critical goals for his team.

Number Four: Kadri Raises Everyone’s Competitive Bar

Beyond his individual talents, Kadri is an on-ice leader who has the capacity to elevate his team’s collective compete level. His play on the ice brings out the best in his teammates because they are forced (or inspired) to match his intensity and determination. This aspect boosts the team’s performance and helps instill a winning mentality.

Nazem Kadri Calgary Flames
Nazem Kadri, Calgary Flames (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Number Five: Kadri Adds an Edge to the Flames’ Game

Huska appreciates Kadri’s style of play. He likes the edge his forward plays with. His skills don’t just focus on finesse; he also brings a level of physicality and edge that can make a difference in critical moments of a game. Kadri’s willingness to engage in physical battles and protect his teammates adds a layer of toughness to the entire Flames team, making them more well-rounded and tougher to play against.

The Bottom Line

It would seem that Kadri has found a home in Calgary. He’s appreciated for what he brings to the team and not what his critics have pointed to as issues in his game. According to his new coach, he’ll be a huge part of the team’s success this season. 

Related: Lindholm Changes Mind About Staying with Flames


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For those fans – and there are many Kadri fans remaining in Toronto – who appreciate players who play with unwavering commitment, competitive spirit, and a high-level skill set, Kadri is a player they can appreciate. Flames fans should look for him to be a team leader this season, elevating the team’s competitive edge and adding a dimension to the team that helps make them a winner.


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