I am who I am by Nazem Kadri

These days I try not to talk too much. I’ve been doing my best to make my game speak for itself. But this time of year is special to me. Nothing beats playoff hockey. That’s why I play the game. And I feel like I’ve been a bit misunderstood these last few years, so I want to vent a couple of things, if you don’t mind.

1. I have to start with what happened last year.

I didn’t sleep for a week straight after beating Justin Faulk in the playoffs.

I hate to disappoint people, I really do. And when I looked up from the ice and saw Justin lying there…I knew what was coming. I knew. When he was sitting in the penalty area, my mind was spinning. I was frustrated with myself, with the situation. I wanted to be anywhere else. It was a bang-bang play and I made a mistake. I’m never trying to hurt anyone out there. I know people may not want to hear any of this, or they’ve already made up their minds for me. I understand.

The next few days, all the calls with the league, the hearings, the process just wore me out. I really didn’t agree with the league, and I felt like what happened wasn’t portrayed fairly. I saw how we fought in the next round against Las Vegas and that killed me. At night he was anxious, he was restless. I wanted to be out there. I live for the hockey playoffs. I sat at home and watched as we lost our second round series. I looked at my daughter, Naylah, who was not even two years old yet. She didn’t care what was going on. All she cared about was that Baba was home to sit on the floor with her and play with her Play-Doh.

One of the Arabic meanings of her name translates as “ambitious”.

I couldn’t think of a better way to describe a Kadri.

Because that’s who I’ve always been. I want to be the one who makes the difference. I want to be the guy with the puck on the stick at the last minute.

2. I used to study Kobe’s interviews when I was younger.

I would watch them. Then I would see them again. The Mamba Mentality was something that fascinated me. He was different, right? I don’t think it took much watching or listening to Kobe to understand how badly he wanted to succeed. We always had Lakers games at our house in London. And I remember when I was 11 or 12 years old, my father bought tickets to a Lakers-Raps game in Toronto. I remember getting into bed that week like, Three more nights until I see Kobe.

We drove up to the ACC, and you know when you’re passing the Gardiner, you can see the logos in the sand? Man, I remember it so clearly. Everything felt so big. The lights, the court, it was mesmerizing, I really don’t know how to describe it. And Kobe was That kind. All eyes on him, all the time. The way he moved, the way he carried himself… he was the main character, you know? I could see how his team trusted him. Not just his ability or his performance, but his Energy.

I wanted to be that guy.

Nazem Kadri |  I am who I am |  player's stand
Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty

3. I believe that Colorado traded for me because they believed that I I might be that guy

Not Kobe, of course. But a guy who could bring energy every night, who wouldn’t take a shift off. A guy who would do whatever it takes to win. Because that’s what I strive to be. I said it in my interview draft in 2009, and I still mean it now.

I learned pretty quickly that you can’t Really be Kobe in this league. There isn’t much room for that kind of external self-confidence. You have to internalize it. When Toronto drafted me in the top 10, it was a different time for young players than it is today. I came to my first camp in 2009 and I thought I had a really good performance. I think I led the team in points. But there was a bit of an old school mentality back then. Our main office didn’t want to rush my development, so they sent me back to juniors. I couldn’t really get into the team for a few years. They were quite critical of me in meetings and a lot of ridiculous headlines were written about me and my game. But I’ve always been someone who, if they tell me I can’t do something… it just makes me want it that much more.

The pressure, the attention, the scrutiny, none of it scared me.

I wanted it.

I know it’s not for everyone, but it never bothered me.

To be successful in a place like Toronto… I think you need to have that. And some people might say, “Well, Nazem, I never made succeed in Toronto. Listen to that. Do. It bothers me as much as anyone that we haven’t done more in the playoffs. But I played for the Toronto Maple Leafs for almost 10 years. I was able to play under those same lights, in the same arena where I saw Kobe do his thing.

And I have so many good memories of being a Leaf.

We fill the big house.

We win playoff games.

We haven’t reached the end. But I’m damned if anyone says I didn’t give it all he had.

4. I never wanted to leave.

I vetoed a trade to Calgary in the summer of 2019. And it had nothing to do with the Flames or any other team in the league. There are a lot of cool clubs with amazing fans and loud buildings. But the team, the city, was part of me.

Because what I think always connected me with Toronto was that I got thatYou know?

I understood how much the fans wanted to win.

I understood how frustrating the ’67 jokes were.

I have the passion.

I understood.

And Toronto was my home.

I made my case to management that I wanted to be there. We had an exciting young core with Auston, Mitch, Willy, Morgan, a great group of talent. And I just wanted to be part of the team that finally won a Cup. That’s all I wanted.

But it’s a business, and what happened in those 2019 playoffs against the Bruins made it tough. I know.

When I hit DeBrusk in Boston, I never thought it would be the last time I’d wear a Leafs jersey. I think about that moment from time to time because, yeah, I wish my stick hadn’t gone so high, but that play? That is what I am. I saw a low blow on one of our leaders, and that doesn’t happen on a team I play for. I will always defend our boys. But I crossed a line, again, and let our guys down. And I can see now that, at the end of the day, it was time for a fresh start.

Getting the call from Kyle Dubas was tough.

I spent my whole hockey life in Ontario, really, and for it to end like this… I was sad, I won’t lie.

I was a team player, yes, but I was also a fan. It will always be.

5. Naylah was born six days later.

When I held her in my arms… it was the most magical feeling in the world. I looked into her eyes, took my wife’s hand and forgot about everything else. There were no trades, no hockey, no pressure. There was only love. Naylah was born in Toronto and I know that one day she will understand what that city means to us. But we moved to Colorado that summer and the entire Avalanche organization was amazing in helping us get established.

In Toronto we lived in an apartment. But in Denver there is much more space, so we were able to get a house with a garden, a grill, all that. The league-wide COVID-19 shutdown happened the following spring, and I was able to spend all this time with Ashley and Naylah at home. I was able to see his first tooth come out, hear his first word (which was slime, on the way). I feel very lucky to have been able to be there for all of that. My diapering isn’t as good as my hockey yet, but we’re working on it. Trust the process.

I can’t wait to take her to Lebanon so she can see her roots. I want to explain to you what it means to be a Muslim in North America. Being a father, I see so much more in myself than ever before. I know that the way I behave reflects on my family, who Naylah could one day become.

The player that I am, the one who gives everything, the one who plays with an advantage, the one who still pretends to be Kobe, I’m still that guy. That part of my game that walks the line will always be there. That’s how I got here. That’s how I showed Brian Burke that he could play in this league. But I know that I also have to adapt, I have to mature. It’s something I work on all the time.

I think I’ve shown that this year.

6. Denver has been more incredible than I could have ever imagined.

I feel privileged to be part of this team, this community.

I know I talked about how hard it was to leave Toronto, but it had nothing to do with Colorado. That was between the Leafs and me. Denver has been great for me and my family, and we couldn’t be happier to raise Naylah here. It is such a beautiful city and the people have made us feel at home.

And, man, our building… the best way I can describe it? Hostile.

Is awesome. Our fans are unreal. I can’t imagine being an away team coming here in the last few years. It is as noisy as any building I have ever been in. Full from the drop of the puck to the final whistle. We’ve gotten up five or six times this year and I can remember looking around when there were seconds to go and no one had gotten up from their seat.

Nazem Kadri |  I am who I am |  Players' Tribune
Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty

Even after what happened in the playoffs last year, I feel like the fans have embraced me. And I thank you for that. means the world to me. Spring hockey means more to me. It always has, because I’ve hated losing my whole life. You can ask my elementary school coaches how I handled losing. Evil.

I want to end this season with a victory.

7. I believe in this group.

‘Cause I look around our room and I see a bunch of guys that want the pressure. They want the expectations. A few years ago, maybe there were some fans and players who were happy to make the playoffs, but we know what people want from us. No one is shying away from the moment. I look at Nate, Gabe, all of our leaders: Everything we’ve worked on, from the time we got to camp last summer, through Game 82, has been with the playoffs in mind.

We have worked hard to establish this reputation. And we plan to capitalize on this opportunity.

We are not afraid of lights, at the moment. We are not afraid to fail.

I am without fear of failing.

Cast, just thereIt’s who I am.

So I’m going to give it all I have.

See you on the other side, Colorado.

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