Here’s what only people on the “inside” (i.e. those who work in Burke’s inner circle) really know: did they want to move Kaberle because they just didn’t like him as a player (my guess) or was Kaberle simply the only decent chip they had to try and obtain a high number one pick next summer, or that much-discussed “top-six” forward?
My sense is Burke has wanted Kaberle gone from the day the new GM arrived. Kaberle is not tough, and doesn’t fit enough of the attributes that Burke perhaps wants. (That said, I recognize that it’s not fair or accurate to suggest that there is only one “type” of Burke player…you know, that whole truculent/pugnacious thing. The Sedins are hardly truculent, for example.)
Whatever, this has unfolded in a most peculiar and unsatisfactory manner for all concerned. The Leafs will say they’re happy, and so will Kaberle. His teammates will say all the right things. But no relationship that has been on the rocks so publicly for so long can be healthy and this one is definitely not.
But here’s my thought: what happens if indeed Kaberle plays out this season with the Leafs? We know he becomes a complete free agent next summer. Now, he’s already made more money than he likely ever dreamed of when he came to Canada and made Pat Quinn’s line up a dozen years ago as a physically over-matched NHL rookie defenseman. He doesn’t really need another huge contract -- though most veteran players, even if there are wildly wealthy, chase that contract anyway.
But suppose he has his agent walk into Burke’s office and say at the end of next season: “I want to retire as a Leaf. I’ll play for three million a year for the next three seasons. Then I plan to retire”. What happens then?
Do the Leafs jump up and down and say -- this is a tremendous opportunity to get/keep a high-end puck-moving defenseman for three more years, or do they still let him walk because he is not what Wilson and Burke want -- even at a great price?
That scenario may be the only way we will ever know what the Leafs, for sure, feel about Kaberle. As I said, I believe they really, really wanted to move him. Yet, despite Burke’s summer-long public comments to try and generate more interest, there was likely never an offer that wouldn’t have made Leaf fans (after years of tantalizing talk about what a top-four defenseman can bring in a trade) go: “You’ve got be kidding…”
So Kaberle stays, and Burke will predictably continue to insist that he’s just fine with that.
My guess is, this latter scenario (Kaberle offering the major “hometown discount” at the end of this coming season) will never unfold, so we will never know for sure what the Leaf brass really thinks. But there have been enough clues to help make the case that they are as disappointed as many Leaf fans -- who, like Burke, were hoping for an infusion of grit and scoring help, with Kaberle as the hook.