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Trading Kaberle is a Difficult Decision

It’s a decision that deserves a lot careful assessment. At worst, it could potentially cost a Championship.

Amongst the fury to be rid of Czech native, Tomas Kaberle for potential booty - with the general perception that it’s the smart/right thing to do - trading him is fraught with a future hole that the Maple Leafs will have to pay for dearly at a later time.

If there’s a chance he could be retained and resigned, it’s an avenue that has to be examined.

The skills generating his value are unique and rare. Patience at the point , quarter back of the power play, silky smooth rushing ability with vision and creativity to lead the attack, while also capable of launching long-range passes up the middle for players streaking behind the defense, these are the same skills that a Championship club needs for success. That’s even with the softness in the Leafs zone.

Detroit had Niklas Lidstrom and felt they still needed a boost so they doubled up on Brian Rafalski. Kris Letang and Sergei Gonchar (broken body and all) proved the need for this mobility on their way to the Stanley Cup.

Duncan Keith of the current Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks and Kimmo Timonen are examples of the need for mobility in the back.

Every championship team has one and they are expensive.

Trading away the 32-year old blueliner means removing those skills from the lineup forever. They are irreplaceable and without an heir apparent in the system.

Newly appointed Dion Phaneuf is a capable rusher, but not skilled enough for the zone penetration of Kaberle. He can also skate himself into dead ends, causing turnovers with pucks going the other way and misses high end creativity. He’s a better outlet passer and shot from the point with the fade-away one-timer.

In fact, Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin all make better outlet and first passes than efficiently rushing it, making it easier for opposition to defend against, clogging up passing lanes and taking up space, and hurrying the defense into make errors.

And while Carl Gunnarsson has shown flashes of solid two-way play, he’s not projected to be a premiere rusher.

Mobility is a fine art and few players in the NHL possess the talent to be able to pull it off to the same degree as Kaberle.

To their credit, the Leafs defense as a whole boasts one of the better collection of outlet/first passers in the Conference. Should Kaberle be moved, Ron Wilson would likely have to design breakout plays that involve passes and motion away from the zone, or short quick passes to streaking wingers or curling centers. Passes that are too long get eaten up in interceptions or quick-adapting defenses will spot holes and cut out options.

The goal would be to stop rushes in high before allowing the zone penetration and in transition use the outlet passing ability to find streaking wingers the other way, hopeful of catching the opposition in odd man rushes.

The reality is there is a role on the blueline that only a player of Kaberle’s skill set that fills it in its entirety. To remove him, it will be an expensive acquisition in the future.

And he’s only 32 years old, hardly over the hill in today’s NHL.

Value

For the shear fact of the fear of losing him for nothing as he enters the final season at a favorable $4.25-million salary and cap hit, the generalization is to move him.

But who fills this hole .. and what is the value for a return?

While most will expect a first round pick to be included, it’s actually far from true value – a point that requires it’s own analysis. With a slightly weaker 2011 draft class, a pick and a prospect isn’t good value. He has to return a solid, top-6 forward, someone that can be inserted directly into the lineup. That’s a tough asset for a club to give up, especially one needing all the firepower for their success and one likely in a Cup hunt.

There are a few teams who really miss this mobility on the back end. New Jersey, Vancouver, Dallas are but a few, but one could name a majority of teams that could use this skill set.

I don’t feel Toronto will get the full value of what losing Kaberle from the lineup. It will force a dramatic change in the overall blueline and breakout, with residual implications down the road.

If there is a chance Toronto could resign him to another contract before hitting unrestricted free agency, it would be in their best interests to explore.

San Jose paid Matt Carle and a 1st round pick for Dan Boyle ($6.667 million/4yrs). Chicago signed Brian Campbell long term at an expensive $7.14 million for another 6yrs and with Duncan Keith already in the fold, they were able to sign him to a monster long term deal, all similar players and expensive,

The examples are endless with the end result being a loss for the Leafs. They will lose his skill set entirely for an offensive injection shifting up front in the top-6, where there dire need of additional firepower.

He’s been a relatively cheap cap hit and his next contract will be more on par with the elite of the NHL. It will make the reacquisition of a player of his skill set a very expensive transaction.

In the end, it’s unlikely he survives the off season as a Maple Leaf. But if he does, he could remain one for a very long time.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Toronto Maple Leafs, | KK Members Blog | Permalink
  Tags: beauchemin, gunnarsson, kaberle, schenn

Comments

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You bring up an interesting point about how the Leafs have created their defensive roster and the need for a puck moving defensiveman who has the offensive flair to carry a puck into the offensive zone. Every team needs a player like that including the Leafs. However, is the difficulty resulting from the protraction of the trading of Kaberle a result of the fact that he is the best player to fill the puck-moving defenseman role or is it more based on the fact that he is a long-term Leaf?

Posted by Etterbeekers on 08/11/10 at 05:33 PM ET

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@ Etterbeekers

I think that taking him out of the lineup permanently loses those skills on a blueline that is a little static and not necessarily mobile. It’s not really about him being a long term Leaf, it’s about what he brings to the table, now and especially in the future.

It will be difficult trying to reacquire those skills, not to mention ultra expensive.

Posted by KatsHockey on 08/12/10 at 12:47 PM ET

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