Perhaps, sadly, this is the way it had to be for the Leafs and Tomas Kaberle.
Rocky I was pretty good. By Rocky V, something was missing for most Rocky enthusiasts.
The Kaberle soap opera has gone on for years, and like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown, ever-hopeful Leaf fans simply end up frustrated and feeling that we have now reached the depths of what may well be the equivalent of Rocky VI- So we say: please, no more.
Fans don’t want to hear about Kaberle. Those who follow the Leafs don’t want to write about him. Most importantly, the Leafs are now stuck with a player they really don’t want (unless a deal has indeed been made, but won't be announced until later on Monday), and have made it very obvious they don’t want him.
How can this be good for Kaberle—or the team?
We all understand Burke has been priming the pump for weeks, trying to drum up interest and I'm sure he has received interesting offers. But there was always some reason (excuse?) that there was no good deal on the table, though we kept hearing there were actually a lot of deals being offered -- they just weren’t good enough.
The draft wasn’t the right time. Then it was the early days of free agency, when GM’s were focused on signing the available talent. Then the dust would settle, we were told by the Leaf brass, and once the big free-agent defensemen were no longer in play, the market for Kaberle would solidify.
Finally, we were to believe that, somehow, the Kovalchuk debacle had something to do with the dominoes not falling as expected, or at least as had been hoped, from the Maple Leaf perspective. (That one still puzzles me. If a team out there really wanted Kaberle, would they not have stepped up to the plate long before now, and not “risk” having some other team “outbid” them at the end?)
Regardless of the saber-rattling and the Leafs (as usual) being able to play the local Toronto media to get their message out, none of the Burke-talk convinced his fellow GM’s they should be upping the ante to acquire the long-time Leaf rearguard.
Who knows what was really offered for him and whether there was a big market for Kaberle? I only know this. If the guy is staying, the Leafs had best make it clear to him that they really want him around. He and Wilson are not exactly on the same page, as much as the average fan can tell. And Burke has been willing to move him from the day he arrived.
Hey, we all understand Kaberle is a wealthy, highly-paid professional athlete, and he’ll play wherever he is. But if the Leafs really want to get the best out of this guy, they should sign him to an extension and really and truly commit to him—no more trade talk, public or private.
Maybe then we will see the Kaberle that we saw through the Quinn years—still mediocre at times in front of his own net, but a superb first-pass guy who can be valuable on the power play and play a lot of minutes- including in the playoffs, if the Leafs ever get there again.
But does any of us really want to spend one more day hearing about whether or not Tomas Kaberle will be traded for a “top-six” forward, a high draft pick, or Santa Claus, for that matter?
It didn’t happen. Fine. Keep him, and keep him happy. Build on the guy’s strengths. Don’t try to make him what he is not. Let him play free and confident and he’ll still be a “top-four” guy. With him around, the Leafs might actually have a not-half-bad blueline. Some guys who can smash, some guys who can skate, and some who can actually move the puck out of their own zone.
The Leafs will say they’ve never asked Kaberle to waive his no-trade when it was in force, that it’s the media who keep bringing the issue up. But the truth is, this could have and should have been dealt with long ago. Indecision has cost the club—we saw that with an ineffective Kaberle much of last season. Now it will be hard to any of us—or him—to believe it when management and the coaches say they are happy to keep him around.