NHL Trade Debate: Will the Maple Leafs Bloom With or Without Tomas Kaberle?

Matt Wiseman@HockeyWiseCorrespondent IIIFebruary 17, 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 trade buzz has caught up to a familiar foe once again, but with the recent surge of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the question may not be when, but if Tomas Kaberle can be traded at all.

The Leafs accomplished what they set out to do on their three-game road trip by taking four of a possible six points. After a terrible 3-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs bounced back with a pair of excellent road wins against division rivals Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres.

With Wednesday-night loses to the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers, the Leafs now sit a mere six points back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

A quick glance at the Leafs' remaining schedule in the month of February reveals that the Blue and White have five games left on tap, three of which are to be played on home ice. If the Leafs continue their current pace they will finish the month of February with a record of 9-3-2, and will have reached 63 points for the season.

Considering that the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference is currently held by the Hurricanes who have 62 points, it is more than likely that the Leafs will remain outside the playoff picture even if they achieve the desired 63 points come month’s end. However, the gap may be reduced, or at least kept at a manageable six points.

Needless to say, the Leafs' play as of late has landed them on the verge of a playoff race. With this in mind it is vitally important to return to Kaberle.

The defensive quarterback of the Maple Leafs currently sits fifth in team scoring with 38 points, and more importantly is the leading point producer from the back end.

Knowing all too well the significant contributions to offense that Kaberle makes on a consistent basis, one can’t help but wonder if Brian Burke can afford to trade him.

Burke has repeatedly said that he does not make trades based on the current position of his squad; he does so instead with future success in mind. But could Kaberle be an exception to the rule?

Falling far behind Kaberle in points produced by a defenseman is Dion Phaneuf. The captain of the Leafs has just 15 points, two more than stay-at-home specialist, Luke Schenn.  

Granted, Kaberle generally gets more power play time which increases point production. However, when you combine the point totals of Phaneuf and Schenn. they still fall 10 shy of Kaberle’s individual numbers.

Combine these facts with the recent departure of Francois Beauchemin and Leafs Nation should be highly concerned about their offensive production from the back end if a Kaberele trade was to occur.

A deal involving Kaberle would more than likely not include an offensive defenseman coming back to the Leafs.

I fully understand that trading Kaberle will equate to a nice returning packing that will benefit the Leafs in the future, but for a franchise that has not tasted playoff waters since the NHL lockout, holding onto Kaberle may prove extremely beneficial.

Maybe the more appropriate assertion brings into question the priorities of Burke.

Keeping Kaberle would be hoping for short-term success, and comes with high risks given the fact that Kaberle becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1 and could sign elsewhere, leaving the Leafs with nothing—a-la Mats Sundin.

Trading Kaberle would be safe future planning on the part of the Leafs brass, but will no doubt hurt the team's playoff chances this season.

By no means am I asserting that Kaberle is 100 percent vital to the Leafs if they hope to make the playoffs, but I do think that Burke finds himself in a bit of a catch-22 situation; to trade or not to trade?

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