Friday, March 5, 2010

Tomas Kaberle: The Last of the Muskokans

tomas kaberle leafs
For the third consecutive year, Tomas Kaberle’s no-trade clause has interfered with the Leafs’ plans of dealing the veteran defenceman. Leading up to the deadline Kaberle and his agent reiterated their stance that they would not waive the clause or provide Brian Burke with a list of teams Kaberle was willing to play for. Burke also maintained that he would not ask Kaberle for a list of teams since he felt it necessary to honour the NTC based on Kaberle’s loyalty and dedication to the organization. That’s why it was somewhat surprising to hear that Kaberle provided Burke with a scant list of three teams that he was willing to accept a trade to on the day of the deadline.

The three teams have not been identified and at this point their location is purely speculative. In the past, Kaberle’s name has been linked to Boston (Kaberle for Kessel, which I feel would have been fair for both teams) and Philadelphia (the famous Kaberle for Jeff Carter and a first round pick deal in 2008).

Providing Burke with a list of three teams doesn’t provide the bombastic GM with much leverage, so it was not surprising to see the blueliner stay with the Leafs past the 3 pm trade deadline. Plus, since the Leafs will certainly miss the playoffs this year there will be a period between the draft and mid-August where Kaberle’s NTC is gone and his input into his future location becomes irrelevant.

What’s more interesting is why does Tomas Kaberle insist on staying in Toronto? Does he feel a tremendous sense of loyalty to the team? Does he feel leaving would be abandoning the team? Does he want to stay and help the team re-build? Does he genuinely like Toronto as a city? I don’t really understand why anyone, especially someone over 30, would want to stay in a situation like Toronto’s. Don't they want to win? Isn't that important? I don’t think Kaberle’s insistence upon staying is based on his tremendous loyalty to the team and the city, but is based more on his comfort in Toronto.

You may think that playing in Toronto under the intense scrutiny of a fervent hockey market is anything but comfortable and in most cases you would be correct. However, Tomas Kaberle is in a cushy situation in Toronto. There is absolutely nothing expected of him. Before Dion Phaneuf's arrival, Tomas Kaberle was the Leafs most talented defenceman and potentially their most talented player. Rather than having more demanded of him based on his exceptional talents, Leafs fans actually demand less from Kaberle. The thinking is that poor Kaberle has to play with such a talentless roster, what is he supposed to do? He can go out and put up a respectable amount of points, while playing adequate (maybe even below adequate) defence and nobody requires more.

This was evident to me when I went and saw a random Leafs-Islanders game earlier in the year. During one break in play the Leafs scoreboard counted down the most points by a defenceman in Leafs history. Kaberle was on the list and after the video montage the camera panned to Kaberle sitting on the bench. The crowd cheered feverishly and Kaberle waved his arm and got a little emotional. I don’t even think Kaberle passed someone during that game or the last. It just seemed like a random outpouring of adoration. And that’s what Kaberle gets by staying in Toronto - adoration for being the best player on a terrible team.

The media doesn't require anything of Kaberle either. He's the longest serving member of the Leafs, but how often do you see him in pre/post-game interviews? Not much. He's allowed to coast in Toronto. He has a free pass from everyone.

Or maybe Tomas truly wants to stay with the Leafs to help turn them around. Well, I certainly think it’s possible that he can still be on the team when the Leafs are good. But I think at that point he no longer will be. Kaberle just turned 32-years-old. He will be 33 by the time his contract expires. Realistically, the Leafs will not be a team capable of contending for at least three years, which is being tremendously liberal. I’d say it’s closer to five. Trading Kaberle can hasten this process. He’s the sole component the Leafs can trade to receive a skilled top-6 forward.

But if Kaberle does stay he will be between 36 and 38 by the time Toronto is capable of realistically contending. The only players over 35 in the top-15 of NHL scoring by defencemen are Scott Niedermayer and Nicklas Lidstrom, both of whom are well above Kaberle in terms of skill. After that the oldest player is Brian Rafalski, who is 27th, with 30 points.

I suppose Kaberle plays a similar game to Brian Rafalski and can probably be as effective as Rafalski as he ages, but the addition of Dion Phaneuf really makes Kaberle expendable. Dion can carry the puck and fill the role of Kaberle, while hopefully providing the type of quality defence expected of a number one defenceman. At this point Kaberle is probably fifth on the Leafs defence chart. Phaneuf is clearly first; Komisarek and Beauchemin were just signed by Burke, so they’re ahead of Kaberle; and Luke Schenn is an integral part of the team moving forward. That leaves Kaberle. Is it realistic to pay your fifth defenceman over $4 million when your forward group is bare?

It really pains me to write this. It’s very rare in modern sports to see such dedication and loyalty by a player to an organization. I think it’s well within Kaberle’s rights to refuse to waive his NTC. Let the record show that I while I was disappointed that Sundin did the same in 2008, I held no grudge against the long-serving captain. I was definitely pro-Mats during the acrimonious saga that followed the 2008 trade deadline. Accordingly, I accept Kaberle’s decision and feel no ill will against him.

At this point it seems certain that Kaberle will be dealt when his NTC is briefly lifted this summer. He was almost traded last year at the draft and I can’t really see him surviving longer than that this year. The Leafs are just too devoid of talent up front to pass up their best opportunity at making them instantly better.

That's all I can say. Anymore praise will only contribute to the cushy environment Tomas already enjoys.

1 comment:

Ted said...

I'm sure his decision has a lot to do with comfort in Toronto. I'm sure as an immigrant who has been coming to work here for over 10 years now, he must have quite an attachment to the city, and realistically a trade would probably mean a move to the States, which would be a big change off the ice for sure. I also say it has a lot to do with comfort because that's the only reasoning that makes sense; Ron Wilson openly criticizes the Europeans on the team, the talent/standing of the team has steadily slipped, and the prospect of him even getting in the playoffs here is pretty slim. So really, what else could be making him stay? Canadian beer? Beavertails, perhaps?

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