More on Tomas Kaberle

Ok, I just read an article that Howard Berger wrote yesterday on how the Leafs must trade Tomas Kaberle. It was a pretty disturbing read actually because it showed the ignorance of just how good Tomas Kaberle has been and how ignorant Howard Berger is to what Brian Burke is trying to build in Toronto (not just a team of tough guys).

While he is unquestionably the Leafs’ best defenseman, Kaberle is not, nor has he ever been, in the upper echelon among NHL stars. He is an above-average performer some nights; middling and ineffective on many others, with an enviable ability to head-man the puck. His repertoire does not include even a shred of physical aptitude, which would seem to disqualify him as a Burke protégé.

I will accept that Kaberle has some flaws, mostly in the defensive end (be he is not really a liability either) but to call him middling and ineffective on many nights is short changing Kaberle a whole lot. In Kaberle we are talking about a defenseman who is among the top scoring defensemen post lockout. Here are a comparison of defensemen post lockout.

Niedermayer: 291games, 50g, 166a, 216pts, +4
Kaberle: 295games, 32g, 177a, 209pts, -14

Now when you take into account differences in the quality of each defenseman’s teammates and Kaberle’s numbers start to look very impressive. And as for Kasberle and his softness not being a Burke type player, well Burke has always said he tough guys on his squad to make room for skilled guys like Kaberle and the guy Berger is promoting Burke trade Kaberle for, Phil Kessel, is certainly not a physical presence either. Brian Burke was more than happy to make room for Markus Naslund in Vancouver and Teemu Selanne in Anaheim and it’s not like Scott Niedermayer is the most physical of defensemen either. Pair Kaberle with Beauchemin and you have a great mix of skill and physical play. Post lockout the Leafs have been in the top 12 in scoring every season and that isn’t because the Leafs have had an abundance of highly skilled forwards. It is because the Leafs have had skilled defensemen like Kaberle and to be so eager to trade him away is just plain silly. I am glad Brian Burke has more sense than that.

Though some may invoke Kaberle’s “many contributions to the Maple Leafs”, the club could just as easily have missed the playoffs the past four years without him. Fact is, Kaberle hasn’t appeared in a post-season game in more than half-a-decade, and we can easily count, on one hand, the number of playoff encounters he influenced prior to 2004.

The one thing that really bugs me about Howard Berger is that he often jumps to conclusions about players based on whether that player has made the playoffs yet. Just because Kaberle hasn’t been in the playoffs the past four seasons is not evidence that he is a bad player. It astonished me that for someone who watches as much hockey as Howard Berger does that he seems to forget that hockey is a team sport. There are reasons why the Leafs haven’t made the playoffs and Tomas Kaberle’s name should not come up anywhere on the list of reasons. Using that logic Roberto Luongo must be a bad goalie because he has only won 6 playoff games in his career spanning nine NHL seasons.

That’s why it is almost impossible to conceive that Burke will not be presented an adequate trade proposal before Aug. 15th. Though the GM contends he will only move Kaberle if his “socks” are blown off, he knows he isn’t bartering Zdeno Chara, Nicklas Lidstrom, Dion Phaneuf, Dan Boyle, or any front-of-the-pack NHL defenseman.

I’ll accept that Kaberle isn’t Chara who has such a unique set of attributes or Lidstrom who might be the best defensemen in the NHL ever and probably not Phaneuf who also adds a physical dimension to the game that Kaberle doesn’t bring, but I’d say Kaberle is definitely comparable to Boyle. In fact, Boyle might be Kaberle’s best comparison. Neither are big or play physical and statistically over the last four seasons they are fairly comparable with Boyle being a bit more of a goal scorer while Kaberle having more assists. Both are good skaters and very good puck handlers and both are very good anchoring the power play. Kaberle’s strengths and weaknesses compare very favourably to Boyles and at a $4.25 million salary Kaberle’s value is outstanding.

The risk of injury increases with age, and there is no guarantee – at the moment – that Kaberle’s huge backward step in 2008-09 was a mirage, though it’s reasonable to assume he’d find new life in an improved environment.

The only thing that is a mirage is Kaberle having a huge step backward. Yes he only had 31 points last season but he also only played 57 games. Prorate that to 82 games and you get him 46 points. Now yeah, that is below his previous seasons total of 53 points but you can easily explain the difference due to his injured hand. In late January Kaberle broke his hand. He came back for a pair of games on Feb. 28th and March 3rd but wasn’t ready to return and sat out until the final 6 games in April. In those 8 games after he broke his hand he had just 1 point. Prior to the injury he had 30 points in 49 games which prorates to 50 points over 82 games which really isn’t much of a drop off at all, especially considering the team was trying to find its way under a new, more defensive, coach and playing without its best offensive player from the previous season Mats Sundin.

Most of all is the sheer futility of a restructuring outfit like the Maple Leafs hanging on to such a delectable trade nugget. As mentioned earlier, mismanagement of that order would invalidate much of what Burke has accomplished since acquiring Hanson in late-March.

No, what is futile is trading your best player who is has a very affordable contract just because he is a delectable trade nugget when you have no one with a similar skill set (an important and one of the rarer skill sets in hockey to boot) ready to step in. Trading for the sake of trading is what mismanagement is all about.

This article has 8 Comments

  1. One of the best posts i have read in a long
    time. Finally someone sticking up for one of
    star. Well done!!!

  2. As good as Kaberle is, keeping him is a move the old Leafs would make. I think the only solution long term for this team is to get younger. Do we have a chance to win anything significant in two years before Tomas’ contract expires? No.

    I really don’t think we can cheat this rebuild any further. Keeping Kaberle would probably help us land in the playoffs this year, but not as a good enough team to make any real noise. What does this equate to? Yes, some experience for the youngsters, but also a lower draft position, and less trade value on Kaberle’s contract. What is the goal in Toronto, to make the playoffs this year? That is a joke. You can’t blow it up for one season and call it a rebuild.

    If we can get any offer comparible to Kessel, we have to take it! It’s not about what makes us better now, but what makes us better down the road. The Leafs have a terrible prospect pipeline. Kaberle is one of the last remaining assets that can help us bolster the organizational depth and draw a return of a young star player.

    Howard is a complete idiot, but I agree with his urgency to move Kaberle.

  3. David, thanks for calling out Berger. Regardless of my own opinion on trading Kaberle, Berger is wrong on SO MANY counts I get dizzy trying to count them. He is the worst sports writer working in the Toronto/Ontario hockey media, hands down.

    Having said that, I think Burke should keep him if he can’t get good value in a trade and then extend his unbelievably cheap contract. Van Ryn, Exelby and Frogren will be off the books (along with Stajan and a few other guys) at the end of the season, so there’s going to be plenty of cap room to go after top-line offense next summer and at the draft. Kaberle’s still pretty young for a D-man.

    Again, though, I’d trade him in a heart beat for a first-line forward.

  4. Good call.

    Burke understands the situation; he’ll do what’s best for the team short/long term as it pertains to Kaberle (a valued player for sure).

    As for HB, sometimes it seems he writes articles just to make sure everyone knows he is still here…I thought he was supposed to be on vacation?


  5. Berger is not all THAT bad, he does take a cynical view, but after 40 years can you blame him?

    Kaberle and Beauchemin is going to make an excellent pairing. Since they will see lots of PP time together they should be given a chance to develop chemistry.

  6. I’m not 100% certain that the Leafs lack players capable of stepping in to fill Kaberle’s shoes. I admit they lost a lot when they also dealt Kubina, but I would say Stralman has some of those abilities that Kaberle is credited for, and developing them at the NHL level will require opportunity that he has yet to recieve.

  7. You’ll also notice another element of Berger’s shoddy writing: he simultaneously lambastes Kaberle for being a mediocre player and at the same time urges he be traded because he’ll bring a good bunch of assets in return …

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