The 6'1" 214 lb 32-year-old native of Rakovnik, Czech Republic was the 204th overall pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There has been much talk recently about the trade rumours surrounding Kaberle. Many have tried to articulate the value of this player in a transaction.
The focus of this article will be to look back on Tomas Kaberle the player, and not so much Tomas Kaberle the trade rumour.
Career Prior to the Toronto Maple Leafs
Kaberle's professional hockey career began when he was just 16 years old playing for HC Kladno Jr, the junior squad for HC Kladno of the Czech Extraliga.
To give an indication of the league's status, the Czech Extraliga was ranked as the third strongest hockey league in Europe in 2009 and is considered the best pro league in the Czech Republic.
From the 1994-95 to 1995-96 seasons Kaberle played in 60 games for HC Kladno Jr scoring 13 goals and 23 assists.
Between 1994-95 and 1997-98 he played in 123 games for HC Kladno of the Czech Extraliga while scoring four goals and 25 assists.
While these numbers may not seem impressive remember that he was 20 years old in 1998. So he put up these numbers playing against men when he was anywhere from 16 to 20 years old.
He also played for his country in the 1998 World Junior Championships. There he played seven games while contributing one goal, one assist and two penalty minutes.
Career with the Toronto Maple Leafs
After being drafted in the eighth round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft he spent two more seasons developing overseas in the Czech Republic.
At the end of his 1997-98 season in the Czech Republic he came over to Toronto's American Hockey League affiliate, the St. John's Maple Leafs. There he saw ice time in two games posting no points and three shots.
The 1998-99 season would be his first taste of NHL action with 57 games and 22 points with the Leafs.
He also saw his first playoff action that season in the Leafs run to the Conference Final where they lost to Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres. He would get into 14 of the teams 20 playoff games contributing three assists to the deepest playoff run for the Leafs since the 1993-94 season.
He was eased into the lineup that year, at the time the Leafs defence core consisted of Sylvain Cote, Dmitri Yushkevich, Alexander Karpovtsev, Bryan Berard, Jason Smith, and Danil Markov.
The 1999-00 season would see Kaberle gain more ice time due to the nasty eye injury that their best offensive defenceman at the time, Bryan Berard, received. Kaberle played in all 82 games that season scoring 40 points and from then on he was the Leafs power play quarterback and top puck mover on the back end.
After his 2000-01 season of six goals and 39 assists in 82 games he went into the 2001-02 season as a restricted free agent without a contract. Prior to his current $4.25 million contract (which runs through the 2010-11 season) being negotiated, he saw playing time for HC Kladno in the Czech Extraliga.
The 2001-02 season also saw the Leafs march to the Eastern Conference Final only to lose to the "cinderella" Carolina Hurricanes with Kevin Weekes and Arturs Irbe splitting time in goal and future Leafs Head Coach Paul Maurice behind the bench.
During that run Kaberle contributed two goals, eight assists and a plus-seven rating in 20 games.
The 2003-04 season would be offensively his worst statistical season as a Leaf.
He played in 71 games and scored three goals and 28 assists. However, defensively he was reliable with a plus-16 rating.
After this disapointing season he spent the NHL lockout of 2004-05 playing back home in the Czech Extraliga for HC Rabat Kladno where he played 49 games while scoring eight goals and 31 assists.
When the NHL resumed play for the 2005-06 season a rejuvenated Kaberle firmly cemented his status as an elite offensive defenseman. He played in all 82 games while scoring nine goals and 58 assists.
He and defence partner Bryan McCabe tore up the league on the power play that year and the 2006-07 season saw more of the same. In 2005-06 McCabe scored 13 power play goals and in 2006-07 he scored 11 power play goals. Most of those goals came from perfect passes off Kaberle's stick.
This past season was quite possibly Kaberle's worst defensive year with the Leafs.
While he did put up respectable offensive totals with 49 points in 82 games. He also posted a minus-16 rating in those 82 games. There were rampant rumours flying around during the season that Kaberle and Head Coach Ron Wilson did not get along.
If this was true it most certainly affected Tomas' play on the ice.
In 11 seasons and 820 games as a Toronto Maple Leaf, he has 80 goals, 402 assists, a plus-27 rating, 230 penalty minutes, and 15 game winning goals.
Per season that works out to averages of 74 games, seven goals, 36 assists, and 20 penalty minutes. Those are fairly respectable numbers for a puck moving defenceman.
He has also appeared in 77 playoff games for the Leafs posting six goals, 22 assists, a plus-8 rating, 24 penalty minutes, and three of his six goals were game winners.
Kaberle also played in the NHL All-Star game on four occasions (2002, 2007, 2008, 2009).
During the 2008 NHL All Star Game Skills Competition he participated in the shooting accuracy challenge. He became the fourth player to hit all four targets in four shots. The other players that have managed that feat were Ray Bourque, Mark Messier and Jeremy Roenick. Pretty good company to be in as far a hockey players go if you ask me.
The 2009-10 season saw him pass Norm Ullman for 11th place on the Leafs all-time scoring list. He also passed Tim Horton for second place, behind only Borje Salming, on the Leafs all-time scoring list for defencemen. Tomas Kaberle is clearly one of the best players ever to suit up in the blue and white.
International Competition Appearances
He has appeared in a long list of international tournaments including: 1998 World Junior Championships, 2002 Winter Olympics, 2004 World Cup of Hockey, 2005 World Championships (gold medal), 2006 Winter Olympics (bronze medal), 2006 World Championships (silver medal), 2008 World Championships, and the 2010 Winter Olympics.
In International games he has played 46 game-scoring six goals, 23 assists and 39 penalty minutes.
What Would the Leafs Be Giving up by Trading Kaberle?
He is a player with tremendous vision to make long passes out of his own zone.
He also quarterbacks a power play very effectively, more so when he has a booming shot on the opposite point.
He still makes mental errors from time to time and is not an overly physical player.
Simply put, he is a defenceman that will provide a consistent 40 point effort year after year.
Puck moving defencemen like Kaberle are a much sought after commodity in the current NHL.
In taking a look at the Leafs expected returning defence core, we see that there are not many puck movers of Kaberle's ilk. Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek, Luke Schenn, Francois Beauchemin, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Van Ryan round out the Leafs D line.
Although you could argue that those six defenders are a solid core and could do without Kaberle. Phaneuf, Beauchemin, Gunnarsson, and Van Ryan could likely split the power play duties that Kaberle would be leaving behind. Assuming Van Ryan is healthy he could ease the loss of Kaberle.
Should They Trade Him?
If a team is offering a high first round pick or a young forward with upside that could step in right away I would make the trade. The Leafs already have a log jam on their blueline in terms of bodies and cap dollars and that trade could help acquire much needed skill for the forward lines.
While Kaberle is a great asset his time with the team is done and new blood has taken over the leadership roles.
I trust that Brian Burke will find appropriate value for long-time Leaf Tomas Kaberle and wish Kaberle greener pastures with another franchise.
Thanks for the memories Kaberle, but it is time for your career to move on.
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