TORONTO - Brian Burke is currently engaging in a risky waiting game with his most valuable trading commodity, All-Star defenseman Tomas Kaberle.
Burke has less than three days remaining to decide what to do with his most proven defender, before Kaberle's no trade clause is re-enacted on August 15th at midnight.
The Toronto Maple Leafs front office has a difficult dilemma to deal with in regards to Kaberle, who is currently the team's longest serving member and is entering the final year of his contract at a very modest rate of $4.25 million per season.
There has been a significant amount of speculation recently that as many as six to 10 teams have showed serious interest in acquiring Kaberle, with several teams already having tabled substantial offers.
There is no doubt that Burke's club could desperately use another young and highly skilled top-six forward to play alongside talented sniper Phil Kessel and Burke's prized blue chip prospect, Nazem Kadri.
However, Burke, Toronto's President and GM, has consistently stated over the past several months that unless other NHL general managers are willing to meet his asking price, then he has no problem holding on to Kaberle for the upcoming season.
By waiting until the final days, hours or even minutes up to the deadline, it is apparent that Burke is attempting to drive up the price for Kaberle, in hopes of creating a bidding war amongst his suitors.
This waiting game could potentially leave the Leafs in a precarious position, one in which they may not acquire any assets in exchange for Kaberle, only to watch him walk away at the end of the upcoming campaign.
Look no further than the local Toronto Raptors as an example of the potential impact this type of scenario can have on the direction of a young team. Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment's other "Brian", Bryan Colangelo, can certainly attest to the magnitude of the decision facing the Maple Leafs, and after the recent Chris Bosh exodus from T.O., he most definitely does not envy the position that Burke currently finds himself in.
It is fair to say that Burke's abrasive style and aggressive tactics have proven to be successful for his clubs in the past. However, at this point, it is also quite fair to question whether or not this type of risky waiting game will eventually pay dividends for the team.
Other general managers around the NHL are obviously quite aware of the August 15th deadline, and may not be willing to increase their offers in order to concede to the demands that Burke has laid out to acquire Kaberle's services.
With only one year remaining on Kaberle's current contract, he essentially becomes an extended rental player at a bargain price, unless a team is able to negotiate a contract extension before he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the upcoming season.
This makes Kaberle both an appealing commodity for teams feeling the squeeze of the NHL salary cap, as well as a high risk acquisition for others, since the asking price will surely be steep, involving a combination of young talented players and/or draft picks.
As Sunday evening quickly approaches, there is no doubt that the forecast for Toronto this weekend calls for a flurry of speculation and rumors surrounding the Leafs, and more specifically Kaberle.
The decisions that Burke makes over the next couple of days could have a profound impact on the landscape of the franchise for many years. Burke has a tremendous opportunity to fast track the development of his hockey club from a perennial non-playoff team to an up-and-coming group with a talented young core that could potentially lead the Leafs towards success for the next decade.
Through all of the uncertainty with regards to what may transpire with Kaberle, the one thing we know for sure is that Leafs fans won't have to wait long to see how this story unfolds. As Sunday's upcoming deadline approaches, it seems inevitable that one of two scenarios will play out, with either Kaberle's trading window or his career with Toronto likely closing for good.