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Change of scenery would be good for Karberle; it sure was for former Leaf great Frank Mahovlich

Things can change quickly—for better and worse—in sports.

Sometimes a player is in a situation where he is not comfortable, and feels trapped and unproductive. A change of scenery sometimes can, and does, help. It strikes me that this is exactly the situation facing the Leafs and Tomas Kaberle. He is a veteran with weaknesses but some elite-level skills and after two seasons of knowing he has one foot out the door, he will be a much better player, no doubt, somewhere where he is wanted and will be counted upon.

I well remember long-time Leaf Frank Mahovlich. He joined the Leafs in 1957-’58 (I was 4) as a kid, and starred in Toronto for a decade—once scoring 48 goals in a season when that was a very big number. He certainly contributed significantly to the Leafs winning those four Cups in the 1960s. Yet, his relationship with Coach Punch Imlach was poor and he was by all accounts unhappy in Toronto. (The photo we've included above shows the "Big M" in action at the Gardens against Charlie Hodge and Montreal in the early 1960s.)

After Mahovlich was traded in a shocker to Detroit before the end of the 1967-’68 season, his career initially—team-wise- kind of stalled. The Wings won a grand total of zero playoff games in his three seasons there. (In fairness, the Leafs had no better luck in the same time period.)

Personally, he put up huge stats, scoring a career-high 49 goals playing on a line with legendary Red Wings Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio (see photo at right). While the Wings made the playoffs in 1969-’70, the following season saw a new coach (college legend Ned Harkness) come on board. The Red Wing team struggled mightlily.

So bad were things for the Red Wings that, on January 2, 1971, they visited Toronto and lost to the Leafs by a score of 13-0. The team was a mess, and not long afterwards Mahovlich was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens for three young players, including Mickey Redmond, who went on to score 50+ goals with the Red Wings on some bad teams in the 1970s.

For his part, Mahovlich went from playing on the worst team in hockey (perhaps excluding the expansion franchises in Buffalo and Vancouver) to helping Montreal win the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1971 when they upset both Boston and Chicago in the playoffs.

All it took was a trade- and a change of scenery—and Mahovlich was re-charged and a champion once again. He was fabulous in the playoffs that spring, scoring 27 points in 20 games. He did much the same when the Habs won again in 1973.

Who knows where his career would have gone had Imlach called off the deal in ’68 (which he almost did, because the trade had been leaked prematurely to the media)?

As an aside, other guys from that 1970-’71 Red Wing  team were moved from the sinking ship—and prospered, too. Gerry Hart had a standout career with the Islanders. Dale Rolfe, Larry Brown, Bruce McGregor and Pete Stemkowski all helped the Rangers in the early 70s. Garry Unger became an ironman and star with the St. Louis Blues. Don Luce evolved into a tremendous checking center with the Sabres. Tom Webster went on to a productive career.

But Mahovlich, a Hall-of-Famer, benefited most of all from the dismantling of the Wings. And it never could have happened if the Leafs hadn’t given him a second lease on his hockey life.

As for Kaberle, he has been a wonderful player in many ways for the Leafs. Not a rugged defenseman, not always great in front of his own net, but he has always shown up to play.  He has great vision and a tremendous first pass out of the defensive zone. He could help a lot of NHL teams and I hope he does well wherever he ends up this fall.

For his own peace of mind, I hope it’s not Toronto.

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