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Kaberle needs real love—or a trade, this summer

Besides the losing, there’s something that has gone on too long in Leaf country: the non-stop chatter within—and outside—MLSE about the future of Tomas Kaberle.

It’s been said here—and elsewhere—many times in recent weeks that Kaberle has not performed up to par, to his usual standard, for quite some time.

But let’s examine the situation:

  • Kaberle has always been, and will forever be, more of an “offensive” defenseman. He won’t skate through the entire team and he doesn’t shoot a hundred miles an hour but he will make that great first pass, create some chances on the power-play and generally be a smart and heads-up offensive player. However, he is not great, often not even good, in his own zone. He’s never been tough in front of his own net (we all remember those frustrating playoff series against the Flyers, with Kaberle not able to handle the physical Philly forwards). This is who he is. Everyone has known this forever.
 Let me say that Burke’s stance of never asking players with a “no-trade” to accept a trade is laudable and ethical. But there is a layer beneath that posture that bears a comment.

  • If Leaf management doesn’t like having to keep a player (in this case, Kaberle) they don’t want, then rather than stick with the policy of “I never ask a player with a no-trade if he is willing to move”, they should long ago have been honest with him and told him privately: “We don’t want you here anymore. You’re a good player, have given the organization valuable service, but we’re looking for something different. If you are prepared to stay and play here knowing that, that’s your decision”. Who would stay under those circumstances? If they had taken what I will call the truly honest approach, rather than the make-ourselves-look-good management philosophy that “we don’t go back on our word” a) they could have saved themselves two frustrating years of Wilson coaching a guy he seemingly doesn’t fully appreciate b) Kaberle could have been moved earlier in his career, rather than allow him to grow stale here and c) the Leafs could likely have gotten way more for him than they will be able to this summer.

  • All they’ve done with the current approach is supposedly honor an old contract—but not really respect the player. It’s been obvious to everyone for ages this is an unhappy marriage. Wilson wants a different kind of defenseman. Burke wants his own guys here. Everyone knows they were trying to move him last summer to Boston and again at the deadline. Kaberle has been, in a sense, disrespected, though that would be denied up and down.

  • You have to believe that his teammates believe that Kaberle is gone. That hasn’t helped, I can’t imagine, the psyche of the team. Of course players will say that they pay not attention to these things, but c’mon.

  • Now, if (and this is a huge “if”) the Leafs really and truly want Kaberle around—if they see him as a cornerstone, top-four defenseman going forward, a true leader on the team—then put an end to the speculation. Sign him long-term and tell him, and mean it, that you want him as part of the team going forward, for a long time. Then, and only then, in my view, will we see Kaberle play the way he can, because he will have the comfort of knowing he is wanted—in the place, and with the team, that he claims he has always wanted to be with.
Again, my point is: a lot of time has been wasted, unfortunately. They should have cut bait long ago, if they were planning to do it anyway. Burke has done some outstanding things already in his short tenure, and has shown amazing grace through unbelievably difficult personal circumstances over the past few months.

But on this one, I just feel it would have been better to be honest with the player from the get-go, rather than prolong everyone’s discomfort. It’s not like Kaberle was going to “improve” drastically at the age of 32, or become a different type of player. He is what he is.

I really think Kaberle could still contribute significantly on a good Leaf team. He did years ago. Maybe he truly wants to be here, but that’s irrelevant if management doesn’t want him here.

If he stays and plays as he can, the Leafs have the makings of an above average blueline with Kaberle, Phaneuf, Schenn and Gunnarsson as the big minute guys, and capable veterans in Beachemin and Komisarek (who should be much better next year than they were this season).

That said, the Leafs could probably obtain a decent NHL forward or draft pick (not what they could have got earlier, though), which would help up front.

But no more talk. Just like the Mats Sundin situation went on too long, this hurts the team. Sign him, or trade him- and move on.  Toronto Maple Leaf Blog

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