Tomas Kaberle: Deal or No Deal?

In what has been a very slow off season for movement around the NHL, there have been two big fish the media have covered. The speculation around where Ilya Kovalchuk would sign, and his ridiculous contract have dominated the hockey blogging headlines. Of course Kovalchuk is now an unrestricted free agent once again, as his contract was turned down by an independent arbitrator who sided with the NHL and ruled that it was void for circumventing the salary cap. So while Kovalchuk is renegotiating with the New Jersey Devils, and still in free agent limbo, we turn our attention to the other big fish. That being none other than the Maple Leafs defenceman, Tomas Kaberle.

Kaberle has been the most loyal Leaf in the modern era. He was around pre – cap, when the Leafs were still buying themselves a ticket to the playoffs. He saw the days of Sundin, Roberts, Mogilny, Leech, and even the brief return trip of good old Doug Gilmour. He claims that he loves Toronto, and he wants to stay in Toronto. How much can a man love being on one of the worst teams in the NHL? There is no doubt what Kaberle brings to the table. He is a great guy in the locker room. He doesn’t bring controversy to the organization. He’s a hard worker, who is one of the best passing d-men in the NHL today. He will run a team’s powerplay, log 20 minutes+ a game and give it his all. He has his shortcomings. He’s soft, gets knocked off the puck rather easily, and is not the guy you want on the ice shutting down some of the bigger power forwards in the NHL. We all know that. So do most GMs in the league.

He has one year left on a reasonable contract which pays him about 4.25 million. That is a relative bargain these days for a “top line” defenceman in the NHL. He has a no trade clause which has been lifted since the Leafs missed the playoffs in another pathetic season. That window of opportunity is expiring TONIGHT (Sunday) at midnight. If the Leafs do not trade him, they will retain his services for this season, but what happens after that? He claims to love Toronto and want to stay. Is that really the case? Or does he not want to turn a rabid fanbase against him? If he finishes the season in the Blue and White, then walks in free agency, we will lose another all star for nothing (see Mats Sundin). If he resigns long term, the Leafs will retain the services of a serviceable player in his mid 30s, who will probably command a 5+ million a season contract. Is that something we need?

I say no. I think we are building our team with youth, and that Kaberle’s time with the Leafs should be over. If he stays, he won’t put our team over the top and into playoff contention, and will probably walk after this season. If he resigns, it will be a burdensome contract which will not be justified in the later years when he is older and slower. The best option for the Leafs is to trade him NOW. Burke is saying he won’t move him unless the package is a top 6 forward, or a solid prospect and a 1st or 2nd round pick. Whether Burke is bluffing and trying to get the other GMs to ante up for Kaberle is anyone’s guess. I think we need to restock our cupboard of prospects after we got fleeced in the Versteeg and Kessel deals. If Kaberle nets us a solid prospect who has the potential to crack this year’s roster, and a pick, then that is good value. If he gets us a top 6 forward, then that is even better.

I think the Leafs could use a legitimate top line center, to alleviate the pressure on Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri, who would benefit from seeing 2nd pairing d-men. It is doubtful that anyone will give us a top line center for Kaberle on a one for one deal, although there are rumours that Dallas wants to dump Brad Richards or Mike Ribeiro. St Louis is rumoured to be offering David Backes, a young, big, top 6 forward who has scored 30 goals in a season before. He is also a pending unrestricted free agent, and if the Leafs could resign him long term, it would be a great trade. He was on the American Olympic team this year, but is coming off a mediocre season. The Leafs have taken a high ceiling winger from the Blues who has stunk it up while on the Leafs (see Lee Stempniak). The Sharks are rumoured to be offering Devin Setoguchi, who could be the Leaf’s top line left winger. At the end of the day, all of these offers are just rumours.

Whoever it is that wants to trade for Tomas Kaberle needs to act fast. As I am writing this, there is about 13 hours until the trade window expires. I have my fingers crossed that Burke nets us a solid forward. I really like Kaberle. He is a great player, a great guy, and a solid addition to any team. The Leafs just don’t need him anymore. We need young, rugged and fast forwards who can fill the net. Lets hope Burke can fill this need today and provide Leafs fans with some more hope for the upcoming season.