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Monday, August 16, 2010
Tomas Kaberle stays with Leafs, for now

By Scott Burnside

Hey, this is Vinny from Vaughn. First-time caller, longtime fan. So, what's up with Brian Burke keeping that kid that always looks like he just came from tobogganing? I thought he was "Aloha, Charlie"?

Um, you mean veteran blueliner Tomas Kaberle, whose no-trade clause kicked back into effect at midnight ET on Sunday without the Toronto Maple Leafs GM finding a taker?

Yeah, that guy. What's next? Trading a bunch of lottery picks? Geez.

Well, Burke initially wanted a top-six forward for the talented, if emotionless, Kaberle and claimed at various times throughout the summer that interest from teams had topped double digits. Then, when the market didn't materialize, the GM was asking for top picks or prospects and teams weren't interested, so Burke watched "Seinfeld" as the trade window closed at the end of the weekend.

Bum.

Who? Burke or Kaberle?

Take your pick, pal.

Poor Burke. He gets flayed for making an audacious trade to bring in a proven young scorer in Phil Kessel last summer for a package that turned out to include the second overall pick in June's draft and now he gets flayed for not trading a talented defenseman whose continued presence in the locker room gives the Leafs -- at least on paper -- one of the deepest collections of defensemen in the NHL.

In a town where just taking part in a playoff race would be seen as a resounding triumph, there is a perpetual sense of disquiet over the mighty Leafs; and the continued presence of Kaberle will do nothing to calm those choppy waters.

For a team that hasn't graced the playoff dance card since the lockout and is in the midst of a dramatic Burkian overhaul, Kaberle is a reminder that not all plans unfold as the blueprint suggests.

The Leafs needed help up front this offseason, and Burke got some relief, bringing in former rookie of the year candidate Kris Versteeg from Cup-winning Chicago and Colby Armstrong, a former 20-goal scorer who also happens to be tough as nails (always a nice piece of the hockey résumé from Burke's perspective).

But Kaberle, a three-time Olympian, looked to be a shiny bauble for which Burke could add another big piece. But it didn't happen; teams that might have been interested, such as New Jersey and Los Angeles, remain in the hunt for Ilya Kovalchuk. Other teams weren't prepared to create the cap room even though Kaberle is a relative bargain at $4.25 million in the final year of his contract. With other defensemen such as Kevin Bieksa and Willie Mitchell also in play, the market never materialized (or, at least, the market Burke was hoping for never materialized).

Imagine the hue and cry that would have followed had Burke traded Kaberle for, let's say, a third- or fourth-round player? Vinny from Vaughn and Wally from Woodbridge would have been in an even greater froth.

So the Leafs end up having to keep a top-line defenseman at least until the trade deadline, when they can hope, once again, to entice Kaberle to waive his no-trade clause. The chances are greater now that he'll walk at the end of the season without the Leafs getting any assets in return, and that will be disappointing. But if he plays as poorly as he did in the last half of last season, it won't be that big a loss anyway.

If he returns to form and helps a Leafs power play that has been dreadful the past couple of seasons, maybe Kaberle will give the Leafs a green light to move him to a contender and the Burke Plan will move forward with just a slight delay.

Either way, the issue won't be any different from when the Leafs have tried to move Kaberle in the past. Distraction? Ha. The team is a walking distraction. Not having a distraction on any given day would be considered, well, a distraction of sorts. So the Kaberle situation remaining status quo won't affect things one way or another in the center of the hockey universe.

Then, there's this: What if a blue line that includes new captain Dion Phaneuf, surgically reconfigured Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, emerging youngsters Luke Schenn and Carl Gunnarsson, and newly acquired Brett Lebda (you can figure Jeff Finger to start the season in the AHL) vaults the Leafs into playoff contention in the mediocre Eastern Conference?

Vinny, as grisly as things look up front for the Leafs, stranger things have happened.