Thirteen seasons, 878 games (all in blue and white), three head coaches and countless trade rumours later, and Tomas Kaberle is – finally – no longer a Maple Leaf.
That isn’t to suggest that anyone was anxious to get rid of the 32-year old blue liner, but after over two years of failed trade attempts and far too much chatter, it was clear that Kaberle’s tenure was coming to a close. Unfortunately, in the end, that close was far louder and much less dignified and low-key than the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent would have liked.
So what does the deal mean for the Leafs?
Regardless of what might be said by Brian Burke, the trade represents a major blow to any postseason hopes in Toronto this season. The team simply cannot replace his 20+ minutes of ice time, nor can they replicate his smooth puck movement and playmaking ability. Burke did well to get back a big, skilled, 21-year old center in 2008 first round pick Joe Colborne and a first rounder and conditional second (dependent upon whether Kaberle re-signs in Boston, or if the Bruins reach the Stanley Cup Finals), but he didn’t garner any help for the present stretch run.
Burke has never been a buyer or a seller and instead likes to say that he’ll make any trade if he feels it benefits his team, so it’s always possible he has more up his sleeve. In fact, Burke and Boston GM Peter Chiarelli had hardly agreed to the deal before talk of the Leafs targeting Dallas forward Brad Richards began (Toronto would supposedly use their recently acquired two first rounders as bait).
In the long-term, Colborne could boast a high ceiling if he can answer some of the dedication questions that dogged him in Boston. In the short-term, it isn’t easy to see how a defensive unit featuring Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek, Carl Gunnarsson, Brett Lebda and Keith Aulie along with a still-suspect group of forwards and injury-plagued goalkeepers will be enough to help the Leafs make the push for the No. 8 spot in the East.
But back to Kaberle for a second.
His exceptional play all season for the Leafs (at 38 points through 58 games, he was just 11 behind last season’s total with 24 games still to play) clearly played a role in helping Burke secure a nice trade package that comfortably exceeded the rumoured returns Toronto was supposedly receiving. But why didn’t it help Burke view Kaberle as, perhaps, worth holding onto and even maybe re-signing?
With a core that includes Phil Kessel, Phaneuf, Schenn and now apparently the Kulemin-MaCarthur-Grabovski trio, Toronto is a team that’s young but featuring a foundation primed to win now. Wouldn’t it be funny if, after all this, Kaberle found himself back in blue and white this summer?
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Written by Ben Fisher