NHL Trade Rumors: Who Will Replace Tomas Kaberle?

Mark RitterSenior Writer IFebruary 14, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 08:  Tomas Kaberle #15 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center on December 8, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Penguins defeated the Maple Leafs 5-2.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The time for Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke to trade Tomas Kaberle was never better than last summer.

Void of his no-trade clause, Kaberle was susceptible to a move, but Burke failed to pull the trigger on a deal, which suggests that the offers made by opposing GMs were underwhelming.

Given the lack of interest in Kaberle from NHL circles, Burke happily held onto Kaberle, where he has watched his veteran defenseman have an ordinary season on a team that has once again fallen short of expectations.

In a league with few defenseman that can play upwards of 25 minutes per night, make a terrific outlet pass, run the power play and play with poise, Kaberle should be sought after by several NHL teams, despite his struggles.

The Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks, Carolina Hurricanes and many other teams have already been mentioned as possible destinations for the veteran defenseman, but nothing has come of the rumors to date.

Trading Kaberle has long been debated in the media. Brian Burke has always maintained that he needs a player of Kaberle’s ilk and, in the right situation, would love to sign Kaberle to an extension.

With Burke taking strides to make the Blue and White into a younger club, it appears as if the time is right to move Kaberle, that is, if Burke can get Kaberle to waive his no-trade clause (which, according to reliable sources, may be in the works as we speak).

Whether or not Kaberle moves is debatable. What isn't debatable, is that if Burke moves Kaberle, he will have a huge hole to fill on the backend.

Through 56 games with the Maple Leafs, Kaberle has registered a total of 36 points, ranking him 11th amongst NHL defensemen. The rest of Toronto’s defense has amassed a total of 56 points combined—which is alarming to say the least.

Even more troubling is the fact that between Kaberle, Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek, Carl Gunnarsson, Brett Lebda, Keith Aulie and the departed Francois Beauchemin, not one of them has registered a power play goal.

Individually, only Kaberle and Gunnarson have more than three goals on the season.

Toronto’s offense has received a lot of criticism this season: some of it bang-on, some of it unfair. Let’s face it—without offensively competent defensemen, your team is going to struggle, with or without great forwards.

Kaberle has registered more than one third of Toronto’s offense from the backend; can Burke trade him?

And if he does trade Kaberle, how will Burke adequately replace what the talented Czech brings to the table?

When you look at the current roster, both Dion Phaneuf (who once scored 60 points in 2006-07 with the Calgary Flames) and Carl Gunnarsson (who has a heavy shot) have the potential to become the Maple Leafs' leading offensive producers on the backend.

But it remains to be seen if they can get it done.

That is the unknown that must keep Burke guessing when it comes to trading Kaberle. Trade him and you gain some assets with which you may be able to build around, but who replaces all that offense?

On the current roster, Burke has very few options.

Luke Schenn, Keith Aulie, Mike Komisarek and Brett Lebda are all more “stay-at-home” defensemen, so don’t expect any of them to emerge as an offensive threat.

As far as prospects go, the Maple Leafs have a few players (Simon Gysbers, Jesse Blacker, Jake Gardiner) that may emerge as offensive D-men, but they are a few years away from making the big club, so there is no immediate relief on the horizon.

With seven goals and 18 assists (25 points) for the Toronto Marlies this season, former Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Matt Lashoff’s name is bound to pop up. But one has to think that if he was good enough to crack this roster he’d already be playing in Toronto with the big club instead of with the Leafs' AHL affiliate.

Verteran defensemen Ed Jovanovski, Nik Lidstrom, Bryan McCabe, Andrei Markov and Chris Phillips headline an impressive group of unrestricted free agents this summer. But none of them fall into Burke’s re-tooling mode, and none of them are likely to sign in Toronto.

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen (27 years old, 25 points through 48 games) is a UFA this summer, as are Vancouver Canucks defensemen Kevin Bieska (29 years old, 19 points through 55 games) and Christian Ehrhoff (28 years old, 33 points through 53 games). The well-traveled James Wisniewski (26 years old, 36 points through 50 games split between the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens) is a UFA as well.

All four would fit in nicely in Toronto, but would any of them sign for less than Kaberle’s current $4.2 million contract? And, assuming Kaberle is willing to sign a long-term deal with Toronto for less than $4.2 million per season, are the alternatives really any better than Kaberle?

It’s a tough question for Burke to address, one he has to answer by February 28th.

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