Kaberle: The Value of Speculation

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    As promised it has been a summer of comprehensive retooling both on the grind lines and perhaps more pertinently on the blueline. With Brian Burke hitting the fast forward on the once anticipated rebuild, the Leafs have become a tougher proposition with a prospects chart expected to feed into that ethos for years to come. Meanwhile, the defensive corps has become deeper and more pugnacious than any Leafs setup in the past decade… at least from a utilitarian standpoint.

    There’s little doubt additions such as Komisarek, Beauchemin and Exelby will, when combined with the existing talent, help stem the league worst 3.49 goals per game the Leafs shipped last season. But regardless of the moves already made, the deep pantry and the potential robustness of an playoff ready defensive depth chart (if still paired with a not so playoff ready offensive unit) theres one player whose name crops up time and time again as necessity trade bait.

    With the August 15th deadline drawing near on Tomas Kaberle’s conditional trading waiver, the former blue chip defensive leader has been at the epicenter of intense trade speculation. Headed of the back of a poor 2008-’09 campaign where he posted a tied career worst plus minus in an injury shortened season, Kaberle’s value comes in his offensive upside and perceived bang for buck. Valued at just $4.25 million, Kaberle remains an elite puck moving defenseman in the NHL who would prove a perfect fit in any team playing a Detroit styled transitional D, or any side looking to bolster its power play.

    Subsequently foregoing his spongy, soft bodied play in the trenches, Kaberle’s skillset has become a highly sought after commodity in the faster post lockout game and coupled with a second pairing cap hit, Kaberle’s offensive play alone pitches him two seasons well below market value.

    Small wonder then that Burke has been holding out for the now familiarly touted trade package: a roster player, a blue chip prospect and a first rounder. Naturally for a player who experienced something of a downward spike on his already less-than-decorated defensive play, this has led to traditional cries of overestimation by the ill-informed; not taking into account the length of Kaberle’s contract in a salary capped league expecting roll back.

    It seems many GM’s have been savvier, at least in principal, in recognizing that Kaberle has the potential to augment a side and while Brian Burke hasn’t actively shopped the Rakovnik native, he has certainly entertained several tentative suggestions and offers since June.

    So why no sale? While many seem to have slated the Kaberle move as a cornerstone to the Burkian Leafs rebuild, BB himself has shown little active interest in shipping the Czech D-man since the draft day debacle failed to see the Leafs ascend the board. Sure, Burke has stoked the media fires, helped keep the bandwagon rolling and let his ear be bent, but its all been in the name of salesmanship and gamesmanship, playing the tabloid game in the hopes that a desperate blow-your-socks-off trade came.

    Evidently that trade has yet to materialize and the reasons are fundamental to the cap conscious status quo of recession… simply put, the league is becoming a buyers market. With the salary cap expected to fall next season even if the 5% inflator is evoked once more, the value of high paid talent, even talent going at comparatively bargain bucks, is likely to be lower in real terms on the trade block. While partly attributed to a cautious audience the real stock is being placed in youth, cheap pseudo NHL ready draftees who, while still wet behind the ears, can be called upon in numbers at a fraction of the cost of more established veterans such as Kaberle. Consequently in the current atmosphere of economic uncertainty even the most middling of prospects are seeing their franchise value rise precipitously while columnists wax lyrical about the increasing preparedness seeded at major junior and college level.

    Its a process that is being witnessed in Toronto with Burke banking on much hyped yet untested college kids such as Bozak, Stalberg and Hanson all of whom will at some point see NHL action next season, not to mention Luke Schenn who will be plying his trade until the end of 2010-11 for $875,000 per year. Basically it amounts to bargain bodies in an value versus talent balancing act.

    Evidently whilst no current defensive prospect on any team can offer the kind of offensive upside Kaberle offers, the value of high level prospects and bankable draft picks is likely watering down the offers treading Burke’s phone line. Undoubtedly enquirers are trying to package everything but their top picks and touted prospects to land Kaberle, likely aware how much weight is being placed on the Kaberle move in the Toronto media.

    In the meantime Burke is conducting the maelstrom aware the ticking clock fever pitch may bring more favorable offers. For Burke the situation pans out as win, win, lose. Unlikely to except anything less than his original asking price, if no trade worthy of Kaberle’s services is tendered, the Leafs keep an elite defender with a cost effective cap hit in a hardened top four that could easily house his offense tilted game.

    Still there are those pinning the Kaberle move as vital to the current off-season. With two years left on his contract another poor season would surely see his value tumble. Clearly in that situation his retention would prove a gamble lost. However with more nurturing surroundings (ala Schenn, Beauchemin and Komisarek) Kaberle is unlikely to undergo a dramatic loss of form unless injury intervenes.

    With no definitive information regarding any of the parameters surrounding rival teams offers, it’s impossible to evaluate whether Burke has turned down deals that could have been instrumental to the Leafs current age of rebuilding. Placing our faith in BB we can only assume, with two days left, that no one opposing franchise has offered up suitable compensation and as such made the whole debate regarding should he trade, should he not… academic.

    At the end of the day, the dynamics of deals are played out between GM’s and the tooing and frowing of negotiations. While one can state that now is the best time to trade Kaberle, Burke’s hands are tied by what he is offered. Nobody bar those clamoring for Kaberle’s signature want to see Burke throw one of the Leafs highest valued assets away for peanuts and trades can only be evaluated in the clarity of hindsight; a clarity clouded by speculation.

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