Revisiting the Kaberle Situation

Revisiting the Kaberle Situation

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It’s Leafs Nation’s tired but pivotal debate that dates back to the trade deadline of 2008: Should the Leafs move Tomas Kaberle?

It seems the debate should now be reframed into a new context considering Kaberle’s current contractual situation: Should Brian Burke trade or re-sign Tomas Kaberle?

Give Burke credit for sticking to his word to the point where we should maybe stop questioning it. Since the deadline of 2009, Burke has remained steadfast in his management approach to what he considers an extremely valuable asset: he’ll listen to offers, and if one meets his lofty trade demands, he’ll run it by the NTC-equipped Kaberle (quite different apparently from asking him to waive). The latter part is no longer relevant. Though it’s known Kaberle’s preference is to stay, he can be traded without the Czech’s consent as of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. What remains relevant is that, ostensibly, Burke still thinks as highly as ever about Kaberle, believing him to be a premium puck-mover and consummate professional, and will only move him for the right price. Shopping Kaberle to the highest bidder is seemingly not in the cards.

For Kaberle’s part, some have suggested his fall off in the back half of last campaign was a symptom of his own realization that his time in Toronto is coming to an end. That is, however, all conjecture at this point.

In what’s become such a polarizing debate of mixed perceptions, one universal truth is that the peak of Kaberle’s trade value has come and gone. Kaberle is entering next season in the final year of the highly economical contract significantly responsible for boosting his market price. There is no question this weakens his return value to an extent; at the draft, teams aren’t as urgent to overpay. At the trade deadline of 2011, he becomes a rental.

That’s not to say he’s no longer the most marketable asset on the Leaf roster. Something in the neighbourhood of a decent young talent and a first remains within the realm of the realizable. The fact does remain that a suitor has yet to submit an offer in Burke’s playing field, and therefore it will most likely require a little compromise from Burke if he’s to consummate a deal for the 32 year old.

I do not believe Kaberle’s slowed production in the second half of the 2009-10 campaign, when he posted a mere 18 points in 45 games after a 31-in-32 start, will weigh too heavily into trade negotiations as it relates to concern on the part of potential suitors. Most general managers will look at Kaberle in the context of what he could accomplish in their respective team’s jersey based on his skill set as opposed to any statistical shortfalls in his recent performance on a miserly Toronto club. Many will look at Kaberle’s 49 points this season and wonder what he could accomplish if surrounded by more high-end talent than in recent seasons; perhaps a return to his 67-point form of 2005-06.

The Re-Sign Price:

A terrible last half to the campaign still left Kaberle in the top ten in defensive scoring, in tenth place itself where one point separated tenth from sixth.

Defenceman ’09-10 Points Salary
Mike Green 76 $5.25M
Duncan Keith 69 $5.5M
Dan Boyle 58 $6.66M
Chris Pronger 55 $6.25M
Sergei Gonchar 50 $5M
Tobias Enstrom 50 $3.75M
Mark Streit 49 $4.1M
Niklas Lidstrom 49 $7.45
Tomas Kaberle 49 $4.25

(excluding Drew Doughty, who is on an entry-level contract)

Tomas Kaberle is not on the same level as the likes of the HHOF-bound two-way elites Chris Pronger and Niklas Lidstrom, who earn in the $6-7.5M range. Nor is he likely to be placed in the same class as a Tobias Enstrom, a youngster at 25 who experienced a bit of a breakout season, or Mark Streit, who is the same age as Kaberle but is a late bloomer with only three seasons of 40+ point production to his name. The answer is in between; likely, Kaberle’s asking price is in the neighbourhood of $5 – 5.5 million. Just how much of a “hometown” (effectively so, as Kaberle was drafted out of Kaldno, Czech Republic and sees Toronto as his North American home) discount Kaberle would sustain to remain in the city he loves is unknown, but the range listed seems realistic. The 32-year-old will also likely be looking for a term that will secure him in one spot into his late thirties – likely a four or five year deal – at which point he can mull over his career options and make a decision to either retire or continue on a one or two year deal if he’s got it in him.

The Case for a Trade:

Is Kaberle at $5-5.5 million worth more to the Leafs than his potential trade value? I’d argue the time to trade him is ASAP. One reason is that I believe the Leafs have – by committee – puck-moving ability spread throughout their defense core, and two is that I believe last season was the beginning of a downward spiral of Kaberle’s performance if he remains in Toronto.

As Wook points out, Kaberle’s production post-Phaneuf deal regressed to but six points in 24 games. While it’s known that Kaberle’s five-on-five TOI took a hit after Phaneuf’s arrival,  his powerplay TOI among Leafs defencemen remained the highest in competition with Phaneuf as he manned the point with Dion during man-advantage situations. The numbers back this up: Assuming there wasn’t a major fluctuation in penalties drawn in the final 24 games of the schedule, Kaberle’s 168:58 on the powerplay in the final 24 represents 29% of his 3:68:55 total on the season. 24 games of the schedule also represents 29% of the 82 games Kaberle appeared in for the Leafs this season. And during those final 24 games of the schedule (post-Phaneuf deal), the Leafs’ powerplay went a shockingly terrible 9 for 101, equating to a 8.9% success rate (Leafs’ PP on the year was last in the league at 14%).

Kaberle’s game by game powerplay time in the final 24 games of the season:

Powerplay TOI
1:20
4:34
7:44
3:37
9:20
3:18
5:16
2:28
2:55
3:59
1:00
4:21
3:53
7:46
7:06
1:51
3:48
5:07
7:28
3:25
7:45
2:56
6:01
Total: 106:58
Season Total: 3:68:55

% of Total: 29%

24 GP/82 GP = 29%

Kaberle has that reputation as an elite powerplay quarterback that developed out of his chemistry with Bryan McCabe and Darcy Tucker which led to some big point totals over the years. But increasingly you have to wonder if Kaberle’s pass-first predictability has become easy to read for other teams, and that the opposition is overcompensating towards the shooter and quelling the Leafs’ blueline threat on the powerplay. (this dates back to when McCabe’s point totals began to slide, and was apparent with both Beauchemin and Phaneuf this season).

Meanwhile, Kaberle was playing very few minutes on the penalty kill, typically less than a minute per game. Five on five, he averaged below 17 minutes this season, facing the second easiest competition among Leaf blueline regulars and posting a -16 in the process.

When put together, it’s all rather worrying.

Looking at the overall picture on the backend, Carl Gunnarsson (we may only be seeing the beginning), Luke Schenn, Dion Phaneuf, Francois Beauchemin all have reliable first pass ability. With a roster make-up likely to be geared towards an up-tempo, hard forechecking approach, this could very well suffice.

For my money, it all makes the case that Brian Burke should strike while the iron’s still hot.

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]