There is little wonder Tomas Kaberle had such a miserable last third of the season.
The Leafs clearly have wanted to move him since Brian Burke arrived, and nothing has changed since.
We can say, “Oh, Kaberle’s a professional and makes tons of money, he should be able to go out there and play anyway…”. Well, he did exactly that - he went out and played.
But he knew the Leafs didn’t want him and has known for ages. How a player feels “mentally” is crucial and there’s no way he could feel good after Phaneuf walked in and took over the dressing room. Not that Kaberle was a leader in the room. He probably never has been. But it became evident that Phaneuf, Beauchemin and Komisarek, all Burke guys, were ahead of him in terms of organizational desirability and what I will call the “psychological depth chart”, despite his service to the club for more than a decade.
That said, the past is the past. My concern is that the Leafs are still making things worse. Unless I’m mistaken, Burke has already said, publicly, that while he is not “shopping” Kaberle he is willing to listen to offers.
Unless the Leafs get a good draft pick or a top six forward, we are told that Kaberle will be back.
Now, how can we expect a guy to bust his back side when he knows that the team really is just hoping he will be useful trade bait. So if the Leafs don’t get what they want in a trade, we are led to believe that Kaberle will be at camp in September. But we all know the same trade discussions will then happen right up to the trade deadline in February of 2011.
Everyone knows the recent history. They wanted to trade Kaberle at the 2009 deadline but couldn’t. They tried to trade him to the Bruins late last summer, but it fell through. They tried to deal him at the last second this past deadline.
Now they’re saying he’ll stay - unless (there's that word again) they get something good in a trade.
The guy is obviously not wanted. They’re not saying these things about anyone else - only Kaberle.
Yes, anyone can get traded. It’s part of the “business”. But Kaberle is dealing with way more than his fair share of professional uncertainty and it has hurt him and the team.
This, to me, is one of the biggest issues facing the team this off-season. Rather than letting things continue to linger (a bit like the uncomfortable Sundin situation a few years ago - only worse because it has gone on so long) the team, as I suggested last week, needs to be decisive.
They can’t declare their unconditional support for Kaberle, because that’s not how they feel about him. Fine.
The answer? Move the guy - as soon as the "no-trade" clause doors open after the playoffs. Even if they don’t get exactly what they want. Because, if we weren’t happy with Tomas the last part of this just -concluded season, we likely won’t be any happier come next fall if he plays with that kind of piano on his back for the blue and white- yet again.
The unfortunate thing is, here is an elite-level top-four defenseman who we had under contract at, by today’s standards, a good price on a long-term deal. And the team spent most of the length of the contract wishing they could move him.
When he’s gone, for all his defensive imperfections, my guess is we’ll all be complaining that the Leafs need to find a puck-moving defenseman.
A happy, secure Kaberle might just be part of a pretty darn good defense next season in Toronto. But my guess is he'll be long gone, and it's probably best for all concerned. Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Blog