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Kaberle: Closure—finally; and what I’ll miss about Tomas

I’ve been bobbing and weaving back and forth about whether the most persistent sports story—one that just keeps coming back, has been that of Brett Favre, Peter Forsberg, Chris Bosh or our own Tomas Kaberle.

This is a hockey site so I will only say that, as much as Favre left nothing on the field and his performance through the years deserves much applause, his on-again, off-again retirement announcements and subsequent waffling for the last several years (and the media’s baited breath approach) has been, well, silly, I guess you could say.

But no sillier than how much attention we have given former Raptor Chris Bosh, or his summertime ramblings about his then free-agent status.  Now, if the guy had been a real star, I guess, a franchise player or something, I suppose all this media/fan attention and angst would make sense.  But he’s just another good player who decided to play somewhere else.  So long.  Now that he has “returned” to Toronto, we can move on, presumably. 

Forsberg though, like Favre, was a true star—in Europe, in the NHL and on the international stage.  The guy was guts and glory.  But like Brett, I’ve kind of lost track of just how many times he retired, or was considering a “comeback”. We all wish we had a nickel for every time a media type had a “Forsberg sighting” and reported a possible return to action over the past many years.

I’d say I’ll miss him but he was already gone.  I barely noticed he had come back.

Now, as for Kaberle, well, hasn’t this been a long and winding affair?  He’s been on the endangered list in Toronto for years.  Never quite what the locals wanted.  Not tough enough. Not a leader.  Didn’t shoot enough.

He has clearly never been on the same page as Ron Wilson (click here to see my summertime post, “If your Dad’s not happy, you’re not happy”).  Burke has tried to move him from the day the new GM first arrived.  We don’t have to go back and cover the same old ground about all the efforts, very public, to move the veteran rearguard.  I've written many times about how I feel the Leafs have treated Kaberle for the past few years, and I didn't like it.  I'm sure he didn't, either.  One major outlet posted, after the trade, that Burke had treated Kaberle with respect.  Well, if by trading him to a team on his "list" (which was certainly the player's prerogative), then sure.  But the last three years?  That wasn't respect.

Kaberle didn't fit the Burke philosophy, or something.  So he is, finally, gone.

Many fans are applauding, it seems, that Burke grappled the Bruins' first-rounder and also a former first-round pick back from the Bruins for Kaberle.  The problem is, with the Leafs winning a bit more regularly of late, that pick has far less value than, oh, the one they had to give to the Bruins last June (second overall) for Kessel.  This one will likely be more middle of the pack.

For the record, Burke had said earlier he wanted players, not draft choices.  But he speaks so often it’s difficult to keep track of all the pronouncements and whether there is any real consistency in what he's saying.

I for one, as I have posted in the past, will miss Kaberle. Oh, I won’t miss the moments when he couldn’t take a guy out in front of the net in the playoffs, or when he refused to shoot the puck.  But I will miss his ability to simply skate away from trouble, make that wonderful first pass out of the zone.  I’ll miss the fact that he wasn’t a guy constantly wanting to get out of town to “go play for a winner”.  Instead, he chose to stay here and try to make his team better, right now, year after year.

He didn’t complain and moan about his contract.  He could have held Ferguson hostage years ago but didn’t and signed what was, for this era, an under-valued contract.  He didn’t ask to re-negotiate later, as so many athletes do.

His game rarely changed.  It evolved, sure and some nights he made plenty of mistakes for a veteran defenseman, but the truth is even veteran defensemen make mistakes. By and large he was Tomas being Tomas, night after night.

He rarely took minor penalties, which to me is a good thing.  246 penalty minutes in his entire Maple Leaf career.  Remarkable.  (Too many defensemen are given “credit” for high penalty totals.  Unless you’re taking someone off with you, how is this a good thing? It simply forces teammates to work even harder to kill either dumb penalties or penalties caused by that player’s own lack of skill.)

I have no idea what Kaberle was like in the dressing room.  No Messier, for sure.  But to me, he presented as a supportive teammate, a guy truly happy for the successes of others, much like Sundin was.  He didn’t need or seek the glory.  He just liked playing the game fairly—and well.

So will the Leafs miss Kaberle?  Maybe not.  But as much as I like how Schenn has developed this year, and Aulie looks promising in his early days, the club has nobody who can skate or move the puck from the back end like Kaberle. 

He didn’t bring back a much-discussed "top-six" winger in a trade (if one of the two becomes that, great, but there’s no guarantee). But we do know they traded away a guy who has unusual skill for a defenseman, sets up more plays than the rest of this defense combined, and was seemingly anything but a problem in the dressing room.

And maybe as importantly, but not really often discussed, here’s a point to contemplate:  who on this team is left that can really appreciate what it means to be a Maple Leaf, a Toronto Maple Leaf?

There is no George Armstrong here, someone who spent 20 years proudly in blue and white.  No Dave Keons or Bob Pulford, who each logged 15 or so seasons.  No Borje Salming, who played here proudly seemingly forever.  No Mats Sundin, who bled for this team year after year and represented the team so well publicly as its captain.

Is Schenn now the longest serving Maple Leaf?  Wow.

Kill the old culture if you feel that’s needed, I guess.  But this is the Toronto Maple Leafs, not the Toronto Burkes.

So Kaberle is the last of the pre-Burke guys to go.  The guy who the brass seemed to feel defined the “blue and white” disease, the lousy culture, in Toronto.

He’s now gone.

Well, we should sometimes be careful what we wish for.  Kaberle was not a superstar.  Never was, never will be.  But eight times he earned more than 30 assists in a season.  Only once did he play less than 70 games in a season.  He was always a “plus” player when they were good, and only last season did he dip to a concerning level, at minus 16. (And that was amidst never-ending trade talk.)

He played the last few years knowing he was unwanted.  Yet he never stopped working.

The Leafs have wanted to get rid of Kaberle for years.  Now it's done.

Let’s see how happy they/we are in a year, when he is playing—and appreciated—somewhere else, while
Leaf fans are still waiting for these prospects to become (hopefully) stars.    



  1. I really, really like this article. I appreciate your perspective, and it share it to a large degree. With all the talk of how great this trade is for the Leafs, I can't shake this hollow feeling. You summed up perfectly the assets that he brought to this team, and you're spot on in pointing out his love for this team. I want players like that, and it concerns me that he was forced out of this city when he brought so much to the table. The fact that he wanted to re-sign here bothers me too. He was effectively kicked out by management. I'm fine with most of the moves Burke has done, but this one really hurts, and makes me question the man's 'vision' and integrity. Thanks for the post!

    danishmarshmallow (your PPP friend)

  2. I am also going to agree with the other comment, one must question Burke's vision when he can let go of a dedicated player who wants to stay. It was very hard to watch Kabs in a Boston uniform (especially with my hate for the Bruins), he was one of the best Dman I have ever watched, and he will be dearly missed. Would Detroit ever treat Lidstrom the way we treated Kabs?

  3. I liked Kaberle as well. The difficult thing about criticizing him this year is that often people weren't in position to take his passes, or weren't backchecking when a goal got scored, so he wears the goat horns in both cases. Watching make pass after pass in the Boston/Ottawa game showed me how much more effective he is when his teammates have a plan! His ability to find the open man on their power plays was awesome.
    Having said that, he was due to make some pretty big bucks as a free agent, and management obviously felt they could use the money elsewhere. Only time will tell, I suppose, but Kaberle's one ex-Leaf I'll always enjoy watching, wherever his career takes him.