Former Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri has come home and it looks like he’ll get to face Mitch Marner.
With Wednesday’s pre-game focus on Kadri’s return to Toronto for the first time since the summer trade with the Colorado Avalanche, the Leafs made a late afternoon move to activate two-time top scorer Marner from injured reserve.
Three roster adjustments for salary cap purposes needed to be made to allow Marner back a bit ahead of schedule from a high ankle sprain: Nick Shore was claimed on waivers by the Winnipeg Jets at noon, followed by the demotions of defenceman Martin Marincin and forward Nic Petan.
Marner was injured against the Flyers on Nov. 9 and during his absence, the club fired head coach Mike Babcock and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe. It’s believed Keefe will play Marner on right wing with regular centre John Tavares, but replace Zach Hyman on left wing with Ilya Mikheyev and keep Hyman on his current line with Alex Kerfoot and Kasperi Kapanen. The Leafs are coming off an embarrassing 6-1 loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Kadri, meanwhile, found coming back to Scotiabank Arena a little challenging at the Avs’ morning skate.
“I got a little lost, thought I needed a map or something,” the centre laughed of making an instinctive right turn out the door that he used the better part of a decade.
It’s expected he’ll get some form of video recognition for playing 561 regular season games with 357 points, both ranking him 25th in franchise history.
“Part of me wants (the game) over and done with so I can focus, part of me wants to enjoy the moment because I worked hard for it,” Kadri said. “It’s going to be emotional. I miss the city, but I like Denver. It’s opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of hockey markets. We don’t see as many (media) around.”
Kadri had two assists in a 5-3 loss to the Leafs in Denver on Nov. 23.
His wild side, which led to a team suspension for off-ice discipline and a couple of costly league sentences for crossing the line in playoffs, tarnished his reputation. In July, he was traded with defenceman Calle Rosen for centre Kerfoot and defenceman Tyson Barrie. It’s fair to say all four players are still getting used to their new teams, but the Avs have a better record. Kadri’s only incident with his explosive temper was going after Joe Pavelski of the Dallas Stars after he caught Avs’ goalie Philipp Grubauer with his stick, a penalty that the Stars’ scored on and nearly cost the Av a win.
The Leafs have been criticized for lack of the grit Kadri used to supply and they cashed out Babcock two weeks ago.
“Babs did what he did, tried to get the group to the best position possible,” Kadri said of his old coach, now under fire for some of his motivational stunts here and in Detroit. “He deserves a little bit of credit, even though it was time for a change over there to spark the team.”
The Leafs are certainly looking for a better effort after their worst game under Keefe.
There is speculation Keefe might reverse course and give Wednesday’s start to Frederik Andersen in a back-to-back instead of the winless Michael Hutchinson, but the Leafs did not have a morning skate. Keefe will address the goaltending and Marner’s status later in the afternoon.
The rested Avs will not have Gabriel Landeskog back from a lower body injury as hoped, but big Mikko Rantanen has returned and hot rookie defenceman Cale Makar will be playing his first game in Calder Trophy voting-rich Toronto.
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