With the Stanley Cup Finals kicking off late last week, the hockey world is already beginning to reflect on the narratives of the playoffs: Another first-round Leafs exit, a historic Connor McDavid performance, the brick wall of Jake Oettinger, and stand-out defence from Cale Makar.
As fun as these narratives are, the neglected story of Nazem Kadri should be at the forefront.
The story traces back to Kadri’s NHL beginnings in Toronto. After back-to-back 32-goal seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18, the hockey world began to see glimpses of the player Kadri would later become. Filled with promise and potential, Kadri headed into the first round of the 2017-18 playoffs, where the Boston Bruins awaited. In game one, a chippy battle filled with missed calls led Kadri to the wrong side of Bruins forward Tommy Wingels, where he delivered a hit from behind that would result in a three-game suspension. The Leafs ultimately lost 7–4 in a game seven heartbreaker. The Leafs met the Bruins in the first round of the playoffs the following year and again, Kadri was suspended for five games for cross-checking Boston forward Jake DeBrusk in the head.
This was the end of Kadri’s tenure as a Maple Leaf.
In 2019, after being traded to the Colorado Avalanche, Kadri was suspended in the playoffs yet again, this time for a hit on Justin Faulk—eight games and the remainder of the Avalanche’s playoff run. At this point, it was more than just a few unlucky calls thrown Kadri’s way.
It is imperative to put these incidents into the context of the league’s treatment of non-white players to understand their broader consequences—in the case of Nazem Kadri, this extends to the treatment from fans, coaches, opposing players, and referees.
Jumping forward to the 2021-2022 season, Kadri has put on an unbelievable performance with a career-high 87 points despite missing 11 games to injury, creating space for himself as one of the most valuable players on a deep Avs team.
After driving to the net to try and tuck in a rebound in game three of the 2022 Western Conference semi-final, Kadri lost his footing, taking out Blues’ goaltender Jordan Binnington and leaving him with a season-ending injury. Despite no penalty being called on the play, and the majority concluding that it was a clear accident, Blues fans, players, and Binnington himself decided to take Kadri’s “punishment” into their own hands.
Binnington, who has a history of making Islamophobic comments and has previously expressed his discontent with Kadri by swinging a stick at his head, decided it would be appropriate to throw a water bottle at Kadri during a post-game interview. Binnington justified his water bottle throw as a “God-given opportunity”.
The NHL, despite claiming to support anti-racism, decided that Binnington’s actions were acceptable and gave no supplemental discipline for either. Not even a fine.
St. Louis fans began to send vulgar, violent, and racist threats via direct messages to Kadri’s wife and children, resulting in the involvement of St. Louis law enforcement. The response from the St. Louis Blues? Silence.
The Blues organization failed to condemn the attacks from their fans at any point in time. When asked about the threats, Blues Head Coach Craig Berube said “no comment”, a response he later revoked, instead citing his absence on social media for his unwillingness to speak on the matter.
And as for the Blues players? While all silent on their socials and in post-game interviews, David Perron and Pavel Buchnevich went after Kadri in game four. Following a scuffle after the play, Buchnevich cross-checked Kadri from behind, at which point Perron flew in with a second, more violent cross-check, tackled Kadri to the ground and began to throw punches.
Perron received a $5,000 fine, but still no suspension.
In a conversation with the Tribune, U2 Management student and die-hard Leafs fan, Owen Anderson, shared his thoughts on the treatment Kadri has received throughout his time in the NHL.
“Growing up as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, I have gotten to watch nearly all of Kadri’s career,” Anderson said. “It was obvious that he was treated differently by the league, by the refs and by the fans. Hockey has a culture problem and unfortunately, Kadri has had to face it head-on. As a fan of the sport, you would hope that the league and referees would be impartial, but that just hasn’t been the case.”
Jumping ahead to the Western Conference Final, Edmonton Oilers forward Evander Kane boards Kadri from behind, leaving him injured for the rest of the series and potentially the Stanley Cup Final. Kane—a repeat offender—got a one-game suspension.
If Kadri were the perpetrator of any of these incidents, he likely would have received a hefty suspension. But these suspensions are not handed out when Kadri is the victim of violent abuse from opposing teams. Why?
Tim Peel, a former NHL referee who was fired after being picked up on a hot-mic saying he wanted to call a penalty against the Nashville Predators, lent some insight into the minds of the referees who make the calls. In a tweet that was quickly taken down, Peel called Kadri’s injury “KARMA!”. Enough said.
So here we are, asking ourselves what the league can do better in its treatment of players of colour. We even forget about Kadri’s unbelievable performance in game four of the Western Conference semi-final with a hat trick that carried his team to a 6–3 win. The focus is the racism that preluded it.
And again, we ask the question—shouldn’t hockey be for everyone?
In a world where Kadri is treated with such overt racism and negligence by the NHL and the Department of Player Safety, and where fans threaten his family and opposing players target him after whistles, in the corners, and in post-game interviews, it’s clear that we are just not there yet.