Tomas Kaberle woke up Monday morning in the Czech Republic, relieved to find he is still a a Maple Leaf, but Brian Burke likely didn’t sleep well in Toronto.
The answer to Kaberle’s immediate future became clear at midnight Sunday when Burke couldn’t reach a deal with two or three final suitors before Kaberle’s no-trade clause was re-activated for 2010-11. But a new slew of questions arise regarding the defenceman’s place on the team that has tried its hardest to trade him several times the past few years.
For example, how will the Leafs keep their blueline happy with seven to eight proven NHLers, but only six spots open a night? Will Burke, having sought to move Kaberle, keep his word and look into a contract extension? Or will Kaberle have second thoughts if the Leafs miss the playoffs yet again and waive his no-trade at the next NHL deadline, provided Leafs try sending him to a team of his choice as he did last March?
Kaberle has a cap-friendly $4.25-million US contract expiring in June. If the Leafs are out of the race, there would be less incentive for other teams to chase him at the next deadline other than as a cheap rent-a-player. Oh, and how would the rumoured rift between Kaberle and coach Ron Wilson play out?
For now Burke would issue only a polite statement after the deadline passed.
“While a number of clubs made offers, none of them reflected Tomas’s value to our team,” Burke said. “I understand a period like this is stressful to the player and we are pleased that there is a resolution and we can all continue to prepare for the coming season.”
Burke’s attempt to spur more interest in Kaberle by including draft picks and prospects on his wish list seemed to open the market the past few days. Burke was thought to be looking at three to four tentative offers for the 32-year-old.
But either Burke overrated Kaberle’s attraction or teams are more interested in a younger defenceman, such as Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa, who is getting squeezed off the Canucks by the salary cap. The ongoing pursuit of UFA winger Ilya Kovalchuk after his contract was spiked by the NHL might also have distracted clubs such as New Jersey and Los Angeles from Kaberle.
The Stars declared they were out, GM Joe Nieuwendyk telling the Dallas Morning News on Sunday that he was not getting involved. San Jose, Columbus and St. Louis were also mentioned as tire kickers.
Burke kept insisting he’d be happy to take Kaberle back, even though the arrival of free agent defenceman Brett Lebda seemed to signal the end was near after 12 years. Even Kaberle was talking this summer about landing with a Cup contender.
From the June NHL draft until Sunday’s 12th bong of the old City Hall clock in Toronto, Burke was convinced there would be takers for Kaberle, counting on getting a top-six forward in return. Having already added Dion Phaneuf and Lebda to his defence since last February and with a couple of kids pressing for jobs, Burke was ready to move on without Kaberle.
“But we aren’t going to give him away,” Burke warned last week.
If he stays, Burke could have the strongest Leaf defence in recent years with Phaneuf, Kaberle, a healthy Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunarsson and Lebda. But that likely means a one-way contract sits every game night. In reserve are Jeff Finger, whose fat contract will likely be absorbed in the minors if he doesn’t re-gain his spot at camp, and the up-and-coming Keith Aulie, Jesse Blacker, Juraj Mikas and Korbinian Holzer.