March 31, 2010
Wilson fires shots at KaberleQuiet war between coach and defenceman nears its conclusion
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
The quiet war between Tomas Kaberle and Ron Wilson marches towards a likely divorce with the coach firing what may have been the final shots at the longest-serving of all Maple Leafs players.
There will not necessarily be any kind of happy ending for Kaberle in Toronto.
The historically quiet and almost non-combative defenceman has told old friends he “can’t stand playing for Wilson” and as much as he has loved playing for the Leafs and living in Toronto throughout his National Hockey League career, even through five straight seasons out of the playoffs, he is prepared to move on because he is unhappy with the manner in which Wilson coaches the Leafs and the lack of respect he shows for the players.
“He’s had enough,” a good friend said. “He’s at his wit’s end with the guy.”
And the feeling, in fact, may be mutual.
The latest shot fired by Wilson came Tuesday after the Leafs lost to the Atlanta Thrashers. After the game, almost unsolicited, Wilson singled out his defence for the defeat, in particular he pointed in the direction of Kaberle and Francois Beauchemin, whom he didn’t name but identified by their high plus-minus figures.
“We talk about how solid our defence is and how well we’re playing and we’ve still got guys who are minus-16 or whatever,” said Wilson.
“They’re supposed to be guys who get the job done defensively and they haven’t improved their plus-minus over the past month when just about everybody else has.”
Here is the strange contradiction of this season for Kaberle: He played his best hockey when the Leafs played their worst. In the first 20 games of this disastrous season, he was almost all-star like. Twenty-two points in 20 games. The Leafs won just three of those games.
In the past 20 games, as the Leafs have begun to look respectable at a time when it doesn’t really matter, Kaberle has played his worst hockey. He is a minus-6 through that period in the schedule and has contributed only five points. He has been held scoreless in 16 of the past 20 games: The Leafs have won 10 of those games.
And the very fact they have missed the playoffs means that general manager Brian Burke can now trade Kaberle without him having to approve any deal. Many in the hockey community believe Kaberle will be traded around the time of the NHL draft, but the freedom to make the deal without Kaberle’s approval may not be the absolute blessing Burke is looking for.
Essentially, the dilemma is this:
There is one year left on Kaberle’s contract. He isn’t likely to agree to any kind of extension in Toronto so long as Wilson is the coach. The Leafs can trade Kaberle to a place he doesn’t want to go — or anywhere for that matter — but without the player’s approval they likely won’t be able to receive maximum worth for the defenceman.
Should Kaberle be traded to a place of his choice — and then agree to a new contract elsewhere — the Leafs likely would get more for the him than if they a) traded him somewhere he won’t sign or b) waited until the trade deadline next season before moving him.
Kaberle doesn’t have his no-trade clause this summer, but as a hockey voice pointed out yesterday, he remains in a situation of control if the Leafs wish to maximize his worth in the open market. Warts and all, Kaberle remains still one of the premier first-pass defencemen in hockey, and a power-play quarterback with vision, a notion belied by the fact the Leafs have the worst power play in hockey. That he and Dion Phaneuf have not found any kind of man advantage chemistry has not worked in his favour, either.
The likely end for Kaberle as a Leaf is coming soon. Just how soon is anyone’s guess.