There is no way of knowing what the Maple Leafs gained from finally trading away Tomas Kaberle on Friday.
That’s the great mystery of it. It could be something. It could be nothing. It might be somewhere between the two.
The guessing game of asset management — just how Brian Burke takes this plethora of loathsome first round draft picks and turns them into something — begins now.
He got a first-round pick from Boston for Kaberle. The Leafs have no plans to use that pick in anything but a trade for something else.
They got a first-round pick from Philadelphia for Kris Versteeg. They have no plans to use that choice either, except, perhaps in a package deal for a higher draft pick, or Burke’s real preference, a live body who can play right now.
The real win on Friday was turning Kaberle into reasonable assets rather than lose him to free agency this summer. In a city that has lost Roberto Alomar and Mats Sundin for nothing and traded away Vince Carter and Chris Bosh for next to nothing, getting futures of some kind for Kaberle was the best play to make.
“We’re going to try and turn (the first-round picks) into something that helps us now,” said Burke, the president and general manager. “Draft picks have never been a priority. I said that about a month ago and we make a couple of trades and get a bunch of draft picks.
“I’m sure people are saying: ‘Well, he just told us draft picks aren’t our first priority’ and they’re not. But at some point, the value of the draft pick makes you have to make the deal.”
The truth on Kaberle: He actually wanted to re-sign in Toronto, the old fool. Kaberle loved being a Leaf, although it’s always been hard to understand why. No one hated attention more and when you play for the Leafs, you can’t escape getting it. But he hung in, and wanted to continue hanging in, only Burke would have none of it. Whatever the future cost of Kaberle would be, clearly Burke was unwilling to pay it.
He tried trading Kaberle in the summer, tried trading him at the deadline last year, tried as his predecessors had over and over. Kaberle has long been one of the few Leafs assets that brings back a price of some significance. But it wasn’t until Kaberle agreed to do business with Boston and the Leafs were able to set the price and get what they wanted from the Bruins, that a deal was actually made.
It isn’t just the two recently acquired first-round picks that are now in play for the Leafs. The third-round selection from the Versteeg trade has already been offered up for an NHL defenceman. A deal could be consummated shortly. And if Kaberle signs in Boston — and why wouldn’t he, considering it was his choice of locations — then another draft pick comes the Leafs’ way, another toy to dangle in the expanding market.
Burke isn’t willing to wait for any kind of player development, that much is clear. He doesn’t want “guys that will take three years to get here.” But he admits it won’t be easy. Once again, he has been the most active general manager in hockey. But for the time being, there is little evidence indicating all the movement is paying off.
“Sometimes,” he said, “you can only deal with so many pieces on the chess board.”
Burke is talking short-term gain but “betting long term here ... I think our fans get it.”
The Leafs remain a canvas only partially painted, with all kinds of brushes and colours to add. With Kaberle gone, they are now minus a competent NHL player on defence but, so far, addition by subtraction has worked in their favour. So far.
“The hardest part of this whole process is the losing. It’s not the criticism,” said the impatient Burke. “I hate losing. The process is taking longer than I wanted it to. It’s taking longer than anyone wanted it to. But the game plan and the blueprint has never changed.”
And the assets to come for Tomas Kaberle remain unknown until further notice. Whenever that will be.