Could the Leafs Keep Tomas Kaberle?

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Could the Leafs Keep Tomas Kaberle?
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The status of veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle has been up in the air for the better part of two seasons, as Leaf fans question and speculate whether he is in the team’s plans moving forward.

Kaberle is the only member of the ‘Muskoka Five’ remaining on the Leafs. The others – Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina – have either been shipped out of town via trade or let go as unrestricted free agents.

Kaberle was considered to have the best value among the former group of expendable players, with a relatively inexpensive contract for a player who can score 50 points annually.

As the tide turned, it became clear that the team was moving in a different direction. Time has gone on and Tomas Kaberle is still a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The buzz around Kaberle began in February of 2008 when there was a rumoured trade between the Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers that would’ve sent Kaberle to Philadelphia in exchange for Jeff Carter and a first round draft pick.

Kaberle nixed the trade after refusing to waive his no-trade clause.

Fans of the blue and white were indifferent with the move because Kaberle was only 29 years old and entering the prime of his career. Jeff Carter hadn’t blossomed into a 40-goal scorer and the draft pick was expected to be in the latter half of the first round.

Fast forward a year and a half later to the 2009 NHL Entry Draft when the Boston Bruins had reportedly tabled an offer to the Leafs that would have sent 21-year old sniper Phil Kessel and a first round pick for Tomas Kaberle. An apparent miscommunication between Leafs GM Brian Burke and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli caused the deal to go awry.

Phil Kessel was later acquired by Toronto in September 2009. However, Tomas Kaberle remains a Leaf.

There has been rampant speculation that Kaberle was indeed a goner and would be moved this summer.

Most fans and observers of the team expected any trade involving the defenseman to be consummated at the Entry Draft in June or in the first two weeks of July.

Unless another team offers Burke an outstanding offer, Kaberle will stay in Toronto. He only has one year remaining on his contract, which will pay him $4.25 million next season.

Brian Burke will not risk losing him to free agency next summer, so he will eagerly try to re-sign him to a long-term deal if a trade is not made.

What will Kaberle command in terms of the salary and term on his next contract?

Sorting through some statistics on the NHL website, Kaberle’s point totals from last season (49 points in 82 games) rank him in the top 10 among defenseman.

Obvious comparisons for basing his next contract include Sergei Gonchar’s new contract with the Ottawa Senators ($5.5 million per season) and Mark Streit’s contract with the New York Islanders ($4.1 million per season).

Tomas Kaberle’s current $4.25 million contract was signed in 2006, and the market value of his calibre of player has increased since then.

A contract similar to what Gonchar is earning is more likely to be in the offing that the value of Streit. Anywhere from $5-$5.5 million per season is the going price for a puck moving defenseman and the likely price that Kaberle will command.

The more important question for the 32-year old defenseman is how many years he wants to continue playing.

One could assume that Kaberle still has enough left in the tank to suit up for five or six more seasons.

His style of play involves more skill and finesse than strength and brute force, which brings longevity to his career.

There is also a possibility that he decides to hang up the skates at an earlier age and backs out of the contract. He will still count against the salary cap when he is over 35 years old, leaving the Leafs with a significant cap hit for a player who isn’t even playing.

Having a long-term contract may well be the deal breaker for Kaberle when negotiating his next contract because he wants to finish his career in Toronto.

Brian Burke must be weary that his client could back out of the contract, forcing the team to be stuck with an unwanted contract.

If no deal is struck to trade Kaberle by August 15th, Brian Burke will begin negotiating to extend the veteran.

Based on the low level of activity with regards to moving him, it appears that Kaberle will finish his career in Toronto.

It is reasonable to assume that his likely asking price will be approximately $5 million per season over five years. Burke has been listening to trade offers, but is coming to terms with the possibility of retaining his most loyal veteran.

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