Does the Phaneuf Trade Suggest the End Is Near for Tomas Kaberle?

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    On the heels of the Leafs‘ much-heralded acquisition of All-Star defenseman Dion Phaneuf, a significant question has arisen within Leafs Nation:

    What impact does this trade have on the future of Tomas Kaberle?

    It is by no means a stretch to argue this trade puts Kaberle in a bit of a tight spot, in terms of speculation regarding his future with the blue & white.

    As we all know, he has stated repeatedly that he would like to remain in Toronto.  We know that GM Brian Burke will not ask him to waive his NTC.  And we also know that last season Burke said he did not want to trade Kaberle if he could not replace him.

    However, his NTC expires this summer, and Burke will be free to deal him to any team in the league. Surely Kaberle must be aware this is a very plausible scenario; after all, a ton of money is now tied up in the back end, the Leafs – already with a roster overload at the position – just acquired two defensemen while only giving away one, and as a result of today’s trades will have a number of holes to fill up front for next season.  Never mind the team’s current lack of draft picks. Or the fact that they tried to trade him for Phil Kessel last summer.  And did I mention that Phaneuf definitely qualifies as a viable replacement for Kaberle?

    Here’s how it all boils down:

    Burke will not ask Kaberle to waive his NTC.  He has been adamant about this point, and, personally-speaking, I believe him.  However, Burke has also made references, in those same press conferences, to the NTC expiring in the offseason (assuming the Leafs don’t make the playoffs. Spoiler alert: they won’t).

    Kaberle has just watched two of his closest friends on the team (Stajan & White), both of whom wanted to remain in Toronto as much as he did, get traded this morning.  Further, he was nearly dealt himself, to Boston, last offseason.  One would think he’s been around long enough to be able to read between the lines:

    (a) Beauchemin and Komisarek are Burke signings. Ergo, they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

    (b) Schenn, Gunnarsson, Blacker, and Aulie are the future of the blueline corps and the team will push to get these guys ice time in the coming seasons.

    (c) Kaberle is a #1 defender on a non-playoff team, yet that same non-playoff team went ahead and acquired another #1 defender anyway.  Given the roster depth and amount of money tied up on the blueline ($27.7m incl. bonuses), it isn’t much of a stretch to argue Phaneuf was brought in to be the (eventual) replacement for Kaberle, as opposed to a complement to him.

    Of course, the question is, does Tomas see it that way?

    Kaberle’s Options:

    1/ Refuse to waive NTC

    • will guarantee he remains a Leaf until at least the offseason
    • opens himself up to being traded somewhere he doesn’t want to play during the offseason
    • slim chance of remaining a Leaf if offseason trade doesn’t happen (e.g. last offseason)

    2/ Be open to waiving the NTC

    • better chance of going to a team he would like to play for, likely a playoff team
    • virtually no chance of remaining a Leaf

    In terms of the team …

    Advantage of keeping Tomas Kaberle:

    • The Leafs would have two bonafide stars heading up their blueline.

    Disadvantages:

    • The current top four (Kaberle, Phaneuf, Komisarek, Beauchemin) eat up a combined $19.05 million (appx. 1/3) of the salary cap.
    • Limits ice time for younger defenders on the rise, notably Schenn and Gunnarsson.
    • Up front the team lacks a true offensive threat beyond Kessel.  Trading Kaberle could go a long way toward adding much-needed scoring punch to the forward ranks, and/or restoring the depleted draft pick cupboard.

    Personally, I do not believe Tomas Kaberle will remain a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs past the NHL Entry Draft. Last season, Burke complained he had no replacement for Kaberle. He just acquired one. Further, he nearly traded Kaberle to Boston in version 1.0 of the Phil Kessel deal. So he is far from untouchable. If the right deal comes up, I have no doubts he is gone.

    However, I also believe there does exist a slim chance that Kaberle will see the writing on the wall, and agree to waive his NTC (contingent upon it being a deal to a team he approves) at the trade deadline.  If he comes to the conclusion that Phaneuf was brought into be his replacement (meaning he will be traded at the draft or later in the offseason), then he may wish to exercise his ability to have some control over his destination.

    Now, I will admit it seems somewhat unlikely he will do that given his public stance to date – but only if you admit that it is certainly far from implausible.

    So to answer my own question from the title of this post, yes, I do believe, at this moment in time, that the acquisition of Phaneuf  will ultimately spell the end of the line for Kaberle as a member of the Maple Leafs.

    The only question is when.

    Looking forward to your thoughts as always,

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    twitter.com/garrettbauman

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