Tomas Kaberle has been a Toronto Maple Leaf for life, but over the past two seasons the likelihood of that remaining the case has been shrouded in doubt.
Defenseman have come and gone for the Leafs in Kaberle’s time here. In fact, Kaberle has seen 59 different defenseman pull on the Maple Leaf in his 11 seasons in Toronto.
Now, many feel it’s Kaberle’s time to go the way of many of those 59 others.
Side note: From my calculations, 48 of those defenseman have left the organization. If you were to split those numbers up into top-six rotations, that’s eight different looks.
Splitting it into top-seven rotations, it’s just under seven (6.8).
Alphabet-wise? You can find every single letter in the list of defensemen Kaberle has played with aside from one: "Q."
These are the things I think you should know.
The rumblings started a few seasons ago, when it was widely acknowledged that the Leafs needed to alleviate themselves of a handful of crippling no-trade/no-movement clauses.
All the while, Kaberle survived.
He’s seen Darcy Tucker, Mats Sundin, Bryan McCabe, and Pavel Kubina (to name a few) all run out of town for one reason or another, but Kaberle has stood firm, unwavering in his desire to be a Maple Leaf.
Now, with the recent acquisition of Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs have spent a good chunk of next year’s cap on defense. They’ve got five defensemen making salaries over $3.5 million, along with Luke Schenn’s rookie contract expiring following the 2010-11 season.
Common thought states that something’s got to give, and many feel that something is Kaberle.
That train of thought is logical: Kaberle is probably the most affordable defenseman for his talent in the league at $4.25 million a season, he’s a 45+ point defender on pace for his second-best season on a team that lacks talent, and at 31 he’s still got plenty of hockey left in him, especially for a playoff team.
All of those things mean that a rebuilding team can afford to move Kaberle. You’d be guaranteed to get at least one draft pick—a first rounder—in return (a big bonus for a team that lacks a first round pick over the next two seasons), a good roster player, and one or two quality prospects depending on how much you get from the first two categories.
But there are reasons to not move Kaberle. Reasons that people seem to forget as they hope for a complete re-shape of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Remember, that on a roster that lacks a true puck-mover, Tomas Kaberle is exactly that.
While he led defenseman in scoring and assists for a majority of the season (a title which has since been captured by Washington’s Mike Green), Kaberle is one of just three defenders with 40+ assists at this point in the year, and could be one of just a few with 55+.
Last year, no defenseman in the NHL had over 55 assists.
In fact, since the lockout, only three defensemen have done so: Nik Lidstrom twice (2005/06 and 2007/08), Sergei Zubov (Dallas-2005/06), and Kaberle (2005/06).
Now, with the acquisition of Dion Phaneuf’s powerful shot, Luke Schenn using his more effectively, and Francois Beauchemin ready to establish a new career-high in shots (he’s got 139 right now, with 144 being his career-high from 2007/08), there has to be someone to get them the puck.
Ian White was traded for Phaneuf, leaving no one to really fill that role other than a handful of guys who still need to cut their North American chops.
Another reason the Leafs shouldn’t move Kaberle? Familiarity.
Tell me who on this blueline knows Toronto as a market, as a team, or as a history.
Mike Komisarek played here as a Montreal Canadien, Jeff Finger and Luke Schenn have had just two seasons on Air Canada Centre ice, and Carl Gunnarsson has spent 34 games between the AHL and NHL in Toronto.
In fact, there’s no one on the roster that understands what it means to be a Maple Leaf. They appreciate it and they’re experiencing it, but—much like captaining any NHL team—you need a level of familiarity with the team to truly understand it.
If the Leafs are fast-tracking this rebuilding process (which they could realistically do if they were to re-tool the forward ranks in the offseason), and look to make noise as a lower-seeded team in the playoffs in future seasons, Kaberle has to be here.
Forget a list of teams he’s willing to be traded to, because he’s already said he won’t (or doesn’t want to) give in. Forget about dealing him once the no-movement clause expires, because the team needs him.
In fact, if he’s willing to stay here for below market value (like he was when he signed his current contract), then re-sign him. Keep him here. And you could go as far as to offer him the captaincy as further incentive to stay.
Kaberle wants to stay here. If he isn’t changing his mind on that, stop forcing him out. Let him over-see the rebuild and help along the young defenders and new players.
While not as aesthetically pleasing to the fans, he could be just as valuable to the franchise as any returns he’s worth through trade.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/BT_88 or check out his profile. Need more? See his archives or hockey54.com—The Face of the Game!