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What to do with Kaberle?

The Tomas Kaberle situation is an interesting one for Leaf fans.

I’ve opined in previous columns about my frustration over the years with some of Kaberle’s defensive deficiencies. But I’ve always acknowledged he has an elite skill when it comes to his ability to move the puck. Finding defenders who can do that is not easy.

So while Leaf nation thinks in terms of Kaberle waiving his no-trade status to allow Burke to move him before the end of the season (when the Leafs will be able to trade him to any team they want) for a high draft pick, here’s a thought:

Why not sign Kaberle to a long-term deal?

Now, I’m among those who would no doubt criticize the Leafs for giving one of those ridiculous ten, twelve or fifteen year deals. How can anyone really want to offer that to a player, with no guaranteed productivity return on your investment two years from now, much less ten or fifteen?

But if Kaberle is speaking truthfully when he has says he likes Toronto and would like to stay here, maybe he will accept another “below market” contract to stay with the Leafs? Perhaps the addition of a veteran goalie and a tough defense partner will rekindle his interest in playing on a future Maple Leaf playoff team.

Kaberle was certainly a factor in the Leafs making the “final four” twice in his Quinn-led tenure with the team, and he would certainly be a valuable piece if he stayed.

A real contender needs defensemen, and lots of them—good ones—to get to and to be successful during the playoffs.

Phaneuf and Kaberle are two. If Beauchemin next season can play as he has in the past in Anaheim, he can be a third. If Schenn develops as everyone hopes, that’s four.

Gunnarson is a long way from proven, but if he continues to show signs of being a player, maybe he would number five.

That leaves a lot of people, including a healthy Komisarek ext season, to round out the back end.

That’s a lot of “ifs”, of course, and I realize this is a bit like baseball spring training, when every team thinks they have five pretty good starters for their pitching rotation. By June, they’re lucky if they have two decent guys left, between injuries and poor performance.

That said, the potential is there to have some goaltending next season, and a reasonably solid defense corps.

Now, we all know that, without strong forwards, the team may be better but still not good enough. And yes, Leaf fans will be frustrated come June if the Leafs scouts are twiddling their thumbs on draft day in round one with nothing to do. But in the last six months, the Leafs have acquired two former first round-choices, one 22 and one 24, both established NHL “star” players. That softens the blow a bit. In return, they’ve given up two number ones and some extra guys.

For now, the so-called “building from the back” blueprint is at least something to believe in. Keeping Kaberle may be something to consider.

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