BUFFALO – Though he understood the need to protect goaltenders, Nazem Kadri said he was a little surprised to receive a three-game suspension for his collision with Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom.
"I didn't quite realize the length was going to be something like this," said Kadri from First Niagara Center in Buffalo on Friday morning. "I maybe thought a fine or a game or two [games] max."
Kadri won't be eligible to return until Nov. 21 against Nashville, further hampering the Leafs situation at centre ice. Already forced to move James van Riemsdyk to the middle with Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland both out, the suspension to Kadri could not come at a more precarious time.
"I'd have to say this is a new one," Randy Carlyle said with a nervous laugh ahead of a home-and-home set with the Sabres. "You have plan A, B, C and D in the drawer and I think we're at E and F right now."
Those plans will include 28-year-old Trevor Smith, who rejoined the Leafs from the Marlies following a game in Cleveland on Thursday night. Smith, the Marlies captain, has 12 points in seven AHL games, but had been plugged exclusively on a fourth line in previous stints with the club.
"We can't expect Trevor Smith to come up at put him on our fourth line," said Carlyle. "It's unfair to him in this situation. When we had other people ahead of him, we had Bozak, we had Bolland, it's a little bit different, but in tonight's situation he's going to play a prominent role in an offensive line."
Smith joins an unlikely group at centre that includes van Riemsdyk, Jay McClement and Jerred Smithson, who was just inked by the organization to an NHL contract last week.
Among the league's most potent groups at even-strength last season, the Leafs have struggled at times to generate offence this season. Over the past four games – three losses – they've managed just one even-strength goal, a Joffrey Lupul marker in a 3-1 loss to Boston.
Second on the team with 14 points, Kadri's absence won't help to address the deficiency.
"That's really the most disappointing part is knowing that we're short some guys and really I can't do anything to help, but just play the waiting game right now," Kadri said.
Kadri had just deflected a shot on goal from Lupul early in the first period Wednesday night before he forcefully bumped a startled Backstrom with arms extended in the Minnesota crease. Later ejected for a thunderous neutral zone hit on Mikael Granlund, the 23-year-old called the collision with Backstrom accidental, but understood the NHL's recent mandate to increase protection for goaltenders.
"I was just trying to go to the net hard to make a play and just ran out of real estate and accidentally bumped into him," said Kadri, who had a hearing with NHL Senior VP of player safety Brendan Shanahan on Thursday afternoon.
It was here in Buffalo that an increased mandate for such protection started. Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller was bowled over by Bruins forward Milan Lucic in 2011, leading NHL general managers to request that Shanahan take further action.
"I think the temperature of that has changed over the last two years," said Carlyle, acknowledging the role of general managers and ownership around the league.
Backstrom was concussed as a result of the incident with Kadri, driving the decision toward a three-game sit-down.
"It's definitely understandable," said Kadri, professing hope that Backstrom was okay. "I know they've kind of cracked down on the interference with the goaltenders and players [have] got to be aware of their surroundings now. That being said, it was unintentional."