Kadri gets a close-up look at Jordan’s legendary competitive streak
Calgary Flames forward Nazem Kadri took basketball legend Michael Jordan’s money over the summer – at least how he tells it.
The two played golf together over the summer at The Grove XXIII, Jordan’s invite-only course in Hobe Sound, Fla. A mutual friend brokered the invitation and Kadri ended up in a group with Jordan and Wayne Gretzky.
After golf they played cards, where Kadri came up big.
“A few bucks,” he said about his winnings earlier in training camp, laughing. “We threw some cards around after and it was a lot of fun.”
Kadri revelled in the setting and getting to pick the brains of sporting legends while on the course
“Those guys can relate to everything that we go through,” Kadri said. “Wayne’s just a real genuine, sincere, nice, cool guy…it was a bit surreal, for sure. MJ’s this big icon, but deep down, you get him in a more intimate setting like that, I think he shows you who he truly is. Just an awesome guy. Funny, got a great sense of humour, and it’s always nice to hear him talk about past stories…that guy will size up anybody.”
Kadri also witnessed Jordan’s legendary competitive streak.
“That guy talks probably the most trash that I’ve ever seen,” Kadri said. “And he’s good at it…he was golfing with a few of his pretty good friends and Mike gets pretty competitive and plays with some cash out there. He was trying to get in everyone’s head, which is hilarious…it’s the mental warfare with him.”
Kadri saw some similarities between the Jordan on the golf course and card table and the Jordan on display in The Last Dance documentary series about the Chicago Bulls’ championship teams of the 1990s.
“You can definitely make a direct correlation, for sure,” he said.
Kadri wouldn’t reveal too much about the stories Jordan told, but clearly the day had an impact on the Flames centre.
“I think you can learn lots about somebody from playing four hours on a golf course together and hanging out afterwards,” he said. “Nothing but great things to say about him.”
Kadri is in the second year of a seven-year, $49 million contract he signed last off-season in Calgary. Much of the talk has been about getting Jonathan Huberdeau back on track after his 55-point campaign, but the Flames need more from Kadri if they want to return to the postseason.
The 33-year-old had 56 points in 82 games last season but looked less engaged as the season went along. He’s expected to be the second-line centre for the season and has mentioned how the long off-season helped his body and mind recover after his lengthy Stanley Cup run with the Colorado Avalanche in 2022.
Coming into the 2023-24 campaign, he’ll not only benefit from that rest but a far more positive and player-friendly culture under new head coach Ryan Huska.
“He’s valuable all over the ice for us,” Huska said. “He’s one of the guys that is a driver a lot of the time…Naz always wants the puck on his stick, but when he doesn’t have it, when he’s at his very best, he’s very competitive in regards to getting it back. He’s got the ability to make people around him better in a lot of different ways. He’s a very important player for us.”
Former Flame Marc Savard is now coaching the forwards and has brought a creative approach to the team’s offence, with far more set plays and freedom. He’s been impressed with Kadri during training camp.
“It’s a match made in heaven,” Savard said, of his creativity combined with Kadri’s tenaciousness. “He wants to create and he’s a good guy to have.”
Kadri has even suggested a defensive-zone breakout to Savard, which the team tried during a preseason game.
“It didn’t work because someone ran a bad route, but it’s a good thing when the guys want to help out and make plays,” Savard said. “I let them be creative…when you get guys involved like that, I think they’re hungrier to help out.”
SPARKS OFF THE FIRE
- Long before he became a Flame, goalie Jacob Markstrom was a fan of country singer Johnny Cash. So much so that his mask for the upcoming season is a nod to the Country Music Hall of Famer. The mask has some pictures and song lyrics of the late singer.
“Johnny Cash and Elvis [Presley], I’ve been listening to those two for decades,” he said. “It’s convenient. I figure we’ve got the Ring of Fire song here after we win, so it made sense.”
Markstrom joked that he needed a break from the skull masks he’s worn in recent seasons.
“Throughout my career, I’ve tried to put something personal to make my mask more me,” he said. “But I’m also big for representing the team…the guy who paints it has done a great job.”
- General manager Craig Conroy has put his stamp on the scouting and hockey operations departments over the past few months, adding a handful of new hires while reassigning other scouts.
“Each person has less teams than they did last year,” he said, of the pro scouting side that observes players on other NHL teams. “We only had three doing the whole [league], now we have four…now they really know their teams. When I call them, they know AHL, NHL, they’re dialled in. They feel like they almost work for that team.”
Executive vice president of hockey operations Dave Nonis now oversees the pro scouting side. Steve Pleau, the new head pro scout, has also changed the grading systems and number of viewings he wants scouts to have on players. The late Chris Snow was instrumental in building the Flames’ analytics department, and a new addition from the Major League Baseball world will be announced soon.“We’ve got to a point where we want to take [analytics] to the next level,” Conroy said. “Moving forward with puck tracking and everything else, we’re going to be able to touch so much more…it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to take a little while to build. It’s very important and it’s always changing. There’s more and more things we can pull from…I like that [the department] is young and has some real fresh ideas. They’re a little bit of outside-the-box thinkers too, which is nice. I’m not sure what they’re talking about half the time, but it sounds good.”