Sour Grapes: Don Cherry Is Biased Against The Maple Leafs

Has Don Cherry gone too far…again???

In a not so surprising move, hockey personalty and former NHL coach Don Cherry called out the Toronto Maple Leafs organization on Twitter Tuesday over the treatment of prospect Nazem Kadri.

Kadri, 21, was drafted by the Maple Leafs in the first round (seventh overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. At the time he was drafted Kadri stood 5’11 and weighed in at 174 pounds.

One of the early knocks against Kadri was his lack of size and overall strength. In an effort to better himself in the physical department Kadri enrolled in former Maple Leaf Gary Roberts’ renowned off-season training camp where he is said to have found a new level of fitness, worked on his eating habits (which Kadri will admit were poor and still in need of attention) and gained some much needed strength.

Late last week, Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins called Kadri out for arriving in training camp with one of the worst body fat indexes, which got the attention of Cherry and the hockey world.

“The one thing Kadri has to improve is his eating habits,” said Eakins. “His body fat today is probably in the bottom three to five guys in our whole camp. That’s unacceptable.”

“That’s the easiest part coming into camp is eating correctly and training correctly. I think he’s probably improved a little bit on the ice. His diet is not where it should be.”

Kadri currently stands 6’0” and weighs in at 188 pounds and while his body fat may not have measured up in the mind of Eakins, one could hardly call Kadri “fat,” which, for the record, Eakins never said he was.

To his credit, Kadri was diplomatic in responding to Eakins’ comments, suggesting that, while he is not perfect, he is not worried about the test results.

“It (body fat index) definitely could have been a little better; it’s definitely not bad,” said Kadri. “The way I’m carrying myself on the ice, I feel stronger. My wingate is way better than it was last year. Even that body fat did drop down from last year.”

Of course, Cherry took the low road, calling the Maple Leafs and specifically Eakins out for blasting Kadri in the media and suggesting that the Maple Leafs were on the road to ruining Kadri.

“I have never in my life seen a kid treated like Nazem Kadri by the Leafs,” Cherry wrote via Twitter. “It started in his first training camp where he led the team in scoring but was blasted for his defensive faults.

“They don’t blast (Nikolai) Kulemin who scored 7 goals. They give him $5 million dollars. Now the Marlie coach (Dallas Eakins) comes out and rips Kadri in the newspaper saying he doesn’t eat properly. Imagine headlines saying he’s chubby and fatso.

“If anyone wants to get a blue print on how to destroy someone, just follow the Toronto Maple Leafs.”

Cherry’s comments are not without prejudice. Last March, Cherry went on a rant about Toronto Maple Leaf general manager Brian Burke, suggesting Burke had an agenda to ignore Toronto-based players at the draft in favor of Americans.

“Every team in the National Hockey League has a guy from Ontario except one — it’s Ontario’s Toronto Maple Leafs,” Cherry said. “If you want American college guys, if you want Americans you got the team.”

While nobody can suggest that Burke does not have his eyes on some of the talent south of border, Cherry was proven to be wrong in his findings when Burke shot back at the longtime voice of Coach’s Corner.

“I’ve run three drafts [with the Leafs], and in those three drafts that I’ve been here, we lead the league with eight Ontario-born players drafted,” Burke told News-Talk 1010 radio host John Moore back in March, 2012. “So the notion that we don’t like Ontario kids, that’s garbage.”

Burke followed those comments up with a strong draft this summer, drafting West Vancouver, British Columbia native Morgan Rielly with the fifth overall pick, followed by the selection of defenseman Matthew Finn (a native of Toronto, Ontario) with the 35th selection.

The Maple Leafs did not select again until the fifth round where Burke selected Dominic Toninato, who hails from Minnesota, followed by the selection of Etobicoke (a suburb of Toronto), Ontario native Connor Brown and Grand Bend, Ontario native Ryan Rupert in the sixth round.

With the selection of three Ontario-born players in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft Burke sent a clear message that, despite the criticisms thrown his way by Cherry, he is not blinded by the talent pool in the United States.

Cherry also had an ongoing feud with former Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, a man Cherry called “Napoleon” and criticized his handling of Kadri.

Clearly, Cherry has an axe to grind with the Maple Leafs organization, and while Cherry will garner some support for his recent comments about the treatment of Kadri, you have to take his criticism of the Maple Leafs with a grain of salt.

When you get right down to it, Eakins’ comments about Kadri could serve to motivate Kadri or, as Cherry stated, “destroy” him. The thing is, does anyone think the comments were really that bad? I mean, facts are facts, and if Kadri came into training camp in the bottom five of the body fat results (which Eakins confirmed) then all Eakins is doing is stating the facts.

If being called out for continuing to employ poor eating habits is enough to derail Kadri then he will never make it in the big show. Professional athletes are exposed to criticism in every sport, and unless they are able to tune the criticism out from the fans, management and coaches alike they will never have the mental toughness to make it as a professional athlete.

If Kadri was offended he is not letting on. Like any player worth his weight (pardon the pun), Kadri seems content on letting his play do the talking for him, which, in the end is all that will matter.

With jobs up for grabs (especially at the centre ice position) the Maple Leafs need Kadri to show a measure of improvement in his overall development. Arriving to training camp in tip-top shape would have sent a message to the Maple Leafs organization that Kadri was serious about making the big club. As it stands now his commitment to being an NHL player has once again come into question, which doesn’t sit well with Eakins.

Like Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, Eakins is very strict when it comes to diet and physical fitness. While Kadri should be applauded for his efforts with Gary Roberts, the Maple Leafs were obviously hoping for more.

Carlyle is said to be looking to employ a much more defensive-focused style of play which will require all of his players to step up their fitness in order to win those tough one-on-one battles and focus on back-checking— especially the centres.

Like many AHL clubs, The Marlies will look to implement a similar system to that of their big club, instructing their players to play a more robust, defense-first style of play while capitalizing on their superior strength and conditioning.

If Kadri is unwilling or unable to keep up with Eakins’ demands he will get a not so gentle nudge from Eakins to pick up his game, which may mean Kadri will have to tweak his eating habits. If Eakins criticism of Kadri makes him a better player, then so be it! And if that means the kid has to suck it up and eat some vegetables, so what?

High body fat or low body fat, if Kadri continues to develop his game and proves he can put the puck in the net at the NHL level all will be forgiven. If Kadri can impress the Maple Leafs a big fat (sorry, another “fat” pun) contract will be waiting for him at the end of the tunnel.

The fact is, the Maple Leafs organization would be thrilled to award Kadri with a multi-million dollar contract, but he will have to earn it just like everyone else.

Cherry’s suggestion that Nikolai Kulemin, 26, did not earn his two-year, $5.6 million contract is probably valid in the minds of many. That said, I wonder if Cherry thought about how a comment like that would hurt Kulemin’s development?

So, it’s alright to take a shot at Kulemin in the media, but not Kadri. Talk about being Hippocratic! Oh, that’s right, Kulemin is a Russian player, not a good ol’ Canadian boy, so it’s not the same thing, right?

I love Don Cherry, I really do, but in this case he should have just kept his mouth shut and let Kadri do his own talking. Don Cherry biased? You betcha!

Mark Ritter
Known as an honest, opinionated and trusted writer, Mark Ritter brings a unique view on the Maple Leafs and the NHL in general. Mark has been writing about hockey for almost ten years and is known for bringing an honest view on the Maple Leafs. You can view more of Mark's work at www.theslapshot.com Please follow Mark on Twitter: @theslapshot
Mark Ritter

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