In the first of what would be 12 seasons in which Tomas Kaberle skated with an “A” on his sweater, it is hard to imagine he had any idea of the ride he was about to be on. In a city where rabid fans and media dissect every facet of the daily operations, being a leader whether it be the Captain or Assistant Captain is a heavy amount of weight to shoulder. Perhaps not the most vocal of leaders, Kaberle took his leadership approach by way of his on ice performance. The smooth skating Czech born defenceman was known for his offensive side of the back end, quarterbacking the power play and flawlessly passing the puck to springing forwards, usually resulting in break away chances.
Among his on ice qualities, Kaberle displayed a great deal of involvement off the ice with his participation in many charities, most notably the Special Olympics. These attributes played a significant role in him becoming a leader and one of the longest serving Maple Leaf defenceman.
As the seasons piled up in which the Maple Leafs were playoff absentees, the qualities displayed off the ice, and the skill set used on it seemed to take a back seat when it came to Kaberle. Trade talk and rumors left many to believe waiving his no trade was a matter of when not if. In his first season as Maple Leafs GM, Brian Burke stated his position not to approach Tomas and ask him to waive what would be his contractual right. Although he expressed a desire to remain in the city he loved and eager to win with, Kaberle submitted a list of 10 preferred destinations in which he may welcome a trade. Thought to contain most if not all Eastern Conference teams, Brian Burke was unable to manufacture what he would call a “good deal” for the future of his Toronto Maple Leafs.
Like gasoline on a fire, the rumors and questions regarding Kaberle’s future ran rampant as the Maple Leafs missed the playoffs once again in the 2009/2010 season. Missing the playoffs gave Brian Burke a small window in which Kaberle’s permission was not required to seal a deal and end the speculation surrounding the Leaf veteran. Burke stood by his duty to secure a deal that fit the needs to better the Maple Leaf future, and was seeking a 1st round draft pick along with a blue-chip prospect in order to start discussions. Thought to be a high price tag set on a 32 year old embarking on the downside of his career, Burke was unable to peddle Kaberle and kept his word that if a deal did not fit his asking price, Kaberle would suit up again for the only team he has ever known.
Almost the cherry on top of the neagative press involving Kaberle were the remarks of his father Frantisek. Speaking to a Czech reporter, Frantisek spoke of his son’s displeasure of Head Coach Ron Wilson, and his intentions to turn down a contract extension in the event Wilson remained Head Coach. While most of the comments surely held merit, it was Tomas who would put out the flames and state his relationship with Wilson as “okay”, and that his father’s comments were “his opinion”. Wilson also encouraged media and fans that he was in the same belief and that a meeting with Kaberle would give the two a chance to iron out any wrinkles before the season started.
The belief around the Toronto Maple Leafs is that regardless of the season’s success Tomas Kaberle would become a free agent at years end and would remove himself from the years of trade speculation. Those beliefs took center stage on Tuesday as Ron Wilson revealed his alternate captains for the 2010/2011 season. Leaving out Kaberle, Wilson elected to choose Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin and a burnt out fire ignited once again.
Perhaps a product of the massive coverage the Leafs receive, it seems that reading too much into Wilson’s decision cannot be prevented. While conspiracy theorists will suggest the writing on the wall for Kaberle, Wilson claimed he wanted the more vocal leaders within the room, a quality missing from Kaberle’s repertoire. Alleviating some focus and pressure, the removal of the letter may allow Kaberle to flourish and continue his stance as one of the better offensive defencemen in the league. And if the plans for a Maple Leaf future without Kaberle are indeed reality, selecting leaders placed around that future will prove a quality decision.
While it may be nearing an end, Tomas Kaberle’s tenure with the Maple Leafs was that of a roller coaster, however it proved much about him. While possessing tremendous skill as an All-Star is what will define him, the character in which Kaberle went about his business in Toronto is second to none. Not even the unavoidable and often unnecessary negativity could entice him to speak out of line or perhaps lash out at any reporter asking the question. In one of the most even keeled and mild tempered players, Kaberle has provided many of the young Leafs a body of work in which to learn from. While the hotbed that is Toronto has swallowed many, Kaberle continues to display the qualities of a respected professional athlete, and it must not be forgotten that it was those qualities that provided him the “A” in the first place.
While today will be flooded with speculation and analysis as the season kicks off tonight with a battle against storied rival Montreal Canadiens, I myself will take a different approach. I will sit back and watch, as what has been a long off-season comes to an end. Let’s drop the puck!
About the Author
Written by RJ Emptage
Operations Manager of a retail chain in Southern Ontario (Sports Obsession). Specialize in licensed sports apparel and novelties (Visit sportsobsession.ca). Being from the Hamilton area I grew up and into a die-hard Toronto Maple Leaf Fan, and look forward to a bright blue and white future...(I know that sounds crazy doesn't it?) Love all things sports and the next best thing to playing them, is talking them!