Adrienne Ruth told herself she wouldn’t cry. She lied.
“If he had come back and not had the same year, or had the same presence, it kind of sours the story,” Ruth, a longtime Avs fan and Nazem Kadri family confidant, told me Thursday after word got out that the Avs’ Stanley Cup hero/provocateur had signed a seven-year contract with the Calgary Flames.
“So in a way, I’m kind of glad the story ends where it ended. Because I think, for him, it was the perfect way to end.”
With a smile. With Lord Stanley in his hands, hoisted to the heavens. With a parade.
Speaking of the parade, you know those T-shirts? The ones that said “Too Many Men” that Naz and his family debuted at the victory parade a few weeks back?
At last count, sales for that bad boy had raised almost $66,000 for charity, with shirt sale proceeds going to The Nazem Kadri Foundation. When’s the last time a gold-medal troll job — hockey assist to Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper, whose baseless complaints after Kadri’s Game 4 winner in the Cup Finals inspired the design — did that much good?
“(Kadri) said, ‘I don’t want a penny,’” said Ruth, who put the aforementioned shirts together based on Kadri’s design notes. “That’s the flip side that people don’t see with Naz.
“He can poke the bear, but he also has a kind and generous personality as well. There’s a human being there who really cares about making a change in sports and in the world.”
We’ll always have St. Louis. We’ll always have Jordan Binnington. The water bottle. The lunacy. We’ll always have the greatest on-ice rebuttal in modern Stanley Cup history. Forever.
Like the heel in a pro wrestling ring, Naz always seemed to be at his best, always seemed to kick it up a notch, whenever the hate was raining down from above. By the time Blues, Oilers and Lightning fans had figured that last part out, it was too late. He’d already won.
“Nazem Kadri can keep you on the edge of your seat a little bit when he’s playing and he’s playing with this X-factor vibe,” said Ruth, who’s partnered with Kadri and his wife on a handful of projects through her Murder On Ice design company. “And that’s what I’m going to miss.”
That and a career-high 87 points scored last season, the kind of contract-year push that kept the Avs trucking while injuries took chunks of the regular season from Nathan MacKinnon, Gabe Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin.
When the moment finds you in playoff hockey — and it will — some guys’ wings melt once the action lofts them a little too close to the sun. Naz, bless him, kept flying.
In the quest for a repeat, the only hole bigger than the one Kadri leaves in the Front Range’s soul is the one on the depth chart. The Stanley Cup brain trust of Avs president Joe Sakic and general manager Chris MacFarland has to find a second-line center who scores like a first-liner and grinds like a fourth-liner. A 6-foot skater whose combination of soft hands, willpower, stubbornness, competitive juice and sheer orneriness stood about 6-10 in the clutch.
The current free-agent pickings at center — old friend Paul Stastny, who’ll turn 37 in December? Victor Rask, who’ll turn 30 next March? — aren’t exactly inspiring.
Maybe J.T. Compher or Alex Newhook can take another step. Maybe Mikko Rantanen moves to center in order to replace a Kadri-sized divot. But after watching the havoc wreaked throughout the postseason by the combination of MacKinnon, Rantanen and Nichushkin on that top line, why mess with perfection?
“I’ve cried a few times,” Ruth said. “I didn’t think I would,”
She’ll always have Tampa. Ruth and her mom were staying in the same hotel as the team and landed an invite to the post-Game 6 championship party.
She eventually caught up to Naz, the Cup at his side, and asked for a picture of the the pair of them with Lord Stanley.
“OK,” Kadri replied, nodding at the Cup. “You gonna lift it?”
She did. Joyously. To the sky. In a profile pic for the ages.
“(It was) weightless,” Ruth said.
Her heart was heavier Thursday. Given the open market and the Avs’ salary cap constraints, Ruth saw the train coming for miles, same as the rest of us. Not that it made the news any easier.
She was drying her eyes when the phone buzzed. Naz.
“(He was) just thanking me for all the support that I had provided this season and in his time here,” Ruth recalled. “And how it really kind of helped to make his experience here one he won’t forget.”
The Front Range won’t forget him, either. Blessed are the backs that help carry a franchise to the summit.
“Just because someone has a reputation and a certain style or swagger to them,” Ruth noted, “doesn’t mean that person is any less human.”
Kadri taught us a lot of things. But the lesson at the end, as we turn a page curled and faded on the edges by salty tears, is to never, ever judge a book by its cover. Even if the last chapter can’t help but break your heart.