Bulls-eye on blue line

Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe has insisted he won't waive his no-trade clause. SUN MEDIA/Dave Abel

Leafs defenceman Bryan McCabe has insisted he won't waive his no-trade clause. SUN MEDIA/Dave Abel

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

With almost 200 goals allowed this season -- tied for worst in the conference -- you would think Maple Leafs defencemen wouldn't be high on many teams' list at the trade deadline.

But Cliff Fletcher likely will be inundated with offers for Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, Hal Gill and perhaps even star-crossed Carlo Colaiacovo as the countdown to next Tuesday heats up.

The appetite for defencemen on contending teams is insatiable at this time of year and, suddenly, the Leafs own seven healthy blue-liners and even have graciously showcased the entire septet in some recent games.

Kaberle, McCabe and Pavel Kubina all have insisted they won't waive their respective no-trade clauses. But that did little to derail a Sun Media report from the GMs meetings in Naples, Fla., that the Philadelphia Flyers are making a big pitch for Kaberle. Having fixed most areas of their club the past 12 months, the Flyers still lack a puck-moving defenceman.

"All you need to know is that Tomas made a decision a couple of weeks ago that he wants to stay in Toronto," Rick Curran, Kaberle's agent, said yesterday. "I told Cliff that a couple of weeks ago. I don't know what's being said (at the meetings), but that's all I can tell you today."

Kaberle's lengthy $4.25-million US contract makes him much more attractive than McCabe or Kubina, who check in with salaries in the range of $5 million to $6 million this season.

But even with a swap for draft picks or prospects or both, the Leafs would be hard-pressed to find a better man than Kaberle as their go-to guy. He is their best breakout passer, is third in team scoring with 38 points and plays 25 minutes a game.

Gill also is shaping up as a likely candidate to move, a depth defenceman to help kill penalties, at a relatively cheap $2.1 million for next year. He was philosophical about his fate in the coming days.

"I learned a long time ago that we're all pieces of meat," said Gill, who has not lobbied to leave. "(If made available), I'll just work hard and get traded for something more."

Fletcher said he has no doubt the first domino is about to fall in terms of big NHL trades.

"Whether it happens here at these meetings, or after everyone leaves, is the question," Fletcher said last night. "We asked Rick about Tomas before and were told he's interested in staying a Leaf for three more years. That's fine, he's a great player.

"We're like every other team right now, waiting. The rumour mill is not active."

Colaiacovo continues to prove he can be a top four defenceman if he stays healthy, aiming for his 10th consecutive game tonight against Columbus. He has pushed Anton Stralman and Ian White into a rotation for the sixth job on game night.

But if the Leafs can influence next year's schedule, they would definitely avoid sticking a five-game homestand just prior to the deadline and the GMs' meetings, both of which intensify the media microscope on themselves. After tonight, the Leafs play Buffalo on Thursday and Atlanta on Saturday, then are in Ottawa on Monday, the day before the deadline.

"It's just that time of the year," Darcy Tucker said. "You don't necessarily need to be in Toronto to experience it. Everyone goes through it."

Saturday, however, could be the last home game for one or two Leafs, which isn't going to help coach Paul Maurice keep his men focused on their work as the week progresses.

"It's a challenge," Maurice said. "But for most of the players, it's not the first time they've been through (the scrutiny). Our guys with no-trade clauses have earned them. They have enough (mental discipline) to get through it."


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