Maple Leafs Should Bring Back Original Agitator

The Toronto Maple Leafs got far more than they could’ve imagined with the emergence of Michael Bunting. The Calder Trophy nominee not only led all rookies with 63 points, but he likely beat all the first-year players with chirps, facewashes, taps, pokes, etc., etc. Bunting filled the instigator role that Toronto desperately needed since trading away Nazem Kadri. In just a few weeks, Toronto and 31 other teams will have a chance to get Kadri as he hits the free-agent market. Kyle Dubas and company should be the first ones calling to bring back the original troublemaker.

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs
Nazem Kadri was drafted by the Maple Leafs in the first round of the 2009 Draft. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Let’s put money aside; we all know the Maple Leafs don’t have a lot of space with the salary cap. So instead, let’s look at why Kadri should return to the team that originally drafted him and a team that the London, Ontario, native tried to stay with despite being shopped around.

Kadri & Bunting Would be Fun to Watch

Kadri is still a rabble-rouser, just ask the St. Louis Blues and Jordan Binnington, but now he is a high-scoring threat that demands a lot of the competition’s attention. Since Kadri’s arrival, the Colorado Avalanche has been one of the league’s best teams. It has now advanced to the 2022 Stanley Cup final. The centre has been a crucial part of Colorado’s success during the 2021-22 season, recording 87 points in 71 regular-season games. He was also a point a game player in the playoffs until being sidelined with an injury.

Related: Maple Leafs Must Trade Latest Playoff Goat

His offensive numbers alone are enough to get teams lining up. Still, it’s the other more unique elements of Kadri’s game that Toronto could utilize. The Maple Leafs’ powerplay was one of the best last season; it would likely get even more opportunities with Kadri and Bunting in the lineup. Those two players have a way of getting under the competition’s skin, keeping players distracted and taking careless penalties. Now Kadri has something missing in the Leafs’ locker room, playoff series wins.

Leafs’ Loading up on Local Talent

Kadri brings another unique element, he bleeds blue and white, or at least he used to. He blocked the first trade attempt Dubas made that would’ve shipped him to Calgary. He also spoke publicly about how much it hurt being traded away from his hometown team. This franchise has been loading up on hometown talent, and Kadri was, and maybe still is, precisely that.

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On the downside, he still is a loose cannon who can go too far and put his team at a disadvantage. His temper led to him going to the dog house in Dubas’ books. He was suspended for the playoffs in two consecutive seasons. The last was the 2018-19 playoffs against the Boston Bruins when he crosschecked Jake Debrusk in the face, but even Auston Matthews has been guilty of that. Speaking on Matthews, do the Leafs really want their superstar to be leading the team in hits next playoffs? Another reason Toronto needs more guys who can mix things up and throw a few hits along the way.

Boston Bruins Zdeno Chara Toronto Maple Leafs Nazem Kadri Jake DeBrusk
Moments after Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri cross-checked Jake DeBrusk in the face. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mary Schwalm)

However, for this reunion to occur, both Dubas and Kadri would have to swallow some pride. Dubas wanted Kadri out and went to great lengths to make it happen. He then spent two years looking for a replacement before Bunting fell in his lap. Kadri may still hold some ill-will toward the general manager who threw him away. But certainly, both men can put differences aside if it means Kadri plays for his hometown team and Dubas can advance the organization beyond the first round of the playoffs.