The topic on the tip of everyone’s tongue in Toronto has been the future of Maple Leafs’ defenseman Tomas Kaberle. Long-rumoured to be a candidate for trade — primarily due to the relative weakness of the roster surrounding him, post-lockout — most are convinced it will be his departure which resolves not only the logjam on the Leafs’ blueline, but also the need for a scoring forward.
While nobody can say for sure where Kaberle will end up, there has been loads of speculation pertaining to multiple destinations of late. The temporary expiration of Kaberle’s No-Trade Clause has, naturally, expanded that list considerably.
The following is a breakdown of the most commonly-speculated rumours surrounding Kaberle’s future: why the rumours are plausible, why they are not, and my own take on the likelihood of such a deal in each circumstance.
THE BIG FOUR
Lately, all the chatter seems to be revolving around four teams: Boston, Los Angeles, San Jose and Tampa Bay. Let’s take a look at those to see what all the fuss is about.
Why it’s possible: The Bruins tried to trade for Kaberle in the past; they have a need for a mobile puck-mover; the Bruins have a surplus of top-six centres, including one (Marc Savard) who has said he would waive to go to Toronto or Ottawa to be near family; Kaberle would likely be open to a contract extension.
Why it’s unlikely: The Bruins won’t move David Krejci; Savard and Patrice Bergeron have significant concussion histories; Savard’s contract length takes him to his late-30s with a complex NTC.
GB’s take: The Leafs aren’t against acquiring a veteran, but would rather not take on an injury risk on a long-term contract unless the other team was willing to give up more in the deal. If the past is any indication (read: the draft pick snafu with the original trade for Phil Kessel), the Bruins likely will not. I’d call this one possible, but unlikely.
Why it’s possible: The Kings entered the off-season looking to make a splash but have struck out; many believe LA are an impact player away from making a serious run; a player like Kaberle would take loads of pressure off franchise cornerstone Drew Doughty, while also providing the Kings with one of the deadliest powerplays in the league.
Why it’s unlikely: Kaberle may not sign an extension, and the youthful Kings are not looking for a one-year player; Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi is historically hesitant to part with young talent.
GB’s take: Kaberle-to-LA is a very plausible rumour, but only within the context of (a) Kaberle signing an extension and (b) the deal being expanded to include more than just Kaberle (e.g. Grabovski or the like). I can’t see Lombardi being willing to part with young talent for anything less.
Why it’s possible: The Sharks believe that with a change in goaltending, they may be primed to win it all; the Sharks lack offense on the back end beyond Dan Boyle; Kaberle and Boyle would create a fearsome powerplay duo; the Sharks have been actively trying to upgrade on D this off-season (e.g. the Niklas Hjalmarsson offer sheet).
Why it’s unlikely: The Kaberle contract extension issue; not to mention the key to the Sharks’ regular season success has been scoring depth up front.
GB’s take: Depends on the rumour: names like Joe Thornton, Ryane Clowe, and Devin Setoguchi are all making the rounds in various versions of the Kaberle-to-SJ scenario. With Thornton, you’re talking a pending UFA for a pending UFA, but would he waive his NTC? With Clowe, you’re talking a coach’s favorite and clutch playoff performer who the Sharks may not be willing to move. If it’s Setoguchi, he did fall out of favor with the coaching staff, but GM Doug Wilson may not be keen to give up on a player with his upside. I would say that ultimately, the likelihood of this rumour panning out is tied to Kaberle’s willingness to discuss a contract extension with the Sharks; I just can’t see them moving any of those players for what might only be one year of service.
Why it’s possible: The Lightning have a new GM (Steve Yzerman) intent on getting the team back into the playoffs, and a new ownership group willing to spend; the Lightning have a dire need for an offensive defender capable of playing top-tier minutes (Mathias Ohlund is aging, Viktor Hedman is a work in progress); odds are favorable Kaberle would be willing to talk about an extension.
Why it’s unlikely: Limited options for trade return beyond Ryan Malone.
GB’s take: Malone is a 2nd line player and as such is likely not enough of a return for a player of Kaberle’s calibre. The Lightning do not have a particularly strong prospect pool, and Yzerman, who trained under draft gurus Ken Holland and Jim Nill in Detroit, may not be willing to part with picks as part of a deal. In short, while the fit is good, the Lightning simply may not be able to satisfy the Leafs’ demands. That said, this rumour is definitely one to keep an eye on.
While not as popular as the aforementioned rumours, there are a few other scenarios that have remained ever-present in the grapevine chatter, including Anaheim, Buffalo, Dallas, and New Jersey (yes, you read that right).
Why it’s possible: With Scott Neidermayer’s retirement, the Ducks have a huge hole to fill on defense, and Kaberle would fit in seamlessly.
Why it’s unlikely: The Ducks are adamant they will not trade Bobby Ryan, and it would take a heck of lot more than Toronto could offer to get him even if he did hit the market; there is next to no chance they move key leaders Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry, as both are signed to below market-value deals; there is little else on their roster or in their prospect pool that could help the Leafs.
GB’s take: Jason Blake might be available. Or we could just move on from this one. Let’s do that.
Why it’s possible: The Sabres lost two key defenders to free agency and have yet to fill those holes; given the team’s proximity to the Toronto area, Kaberle would probably be willing to extend; the Sabres have a good degree of depth at forward.
Why it’s unlikely: The build-from-within Sabres are not typically known for making trades of this magnitude, and have historically been unwilling to move their top prospects; Jason Pominville has a no-trade; Thomas Vanek has too many years at too many dollars remaining for the Leafs’ liking; Tim Connolly is an injury waiting to happen; Drew Stafford is not enough of a return for Kaberle, which takes us back to the issue of dealing prospects/picks.
GB’s take: Highly unlikely. In a battle of team philosophy vs team needs, history suggests the Sabres will take the side of philosophy and target mid-level FAs to fill their holes on the back end until their prospects are ready for prime-time.
Why it’s possible: The Stars’ ownership is in a financial crunch and would not be adverse to shedding payroll; the Stars have major holes on their blueline.
Why it’s unlikely: The Stars appear to be in the beginning stages of a youth movement, so a trade for a veteran defender may not be the most desireable move; more attractive assets such as Jamie Benn or James Neal are players the Stars are intent upon keeping.
GB’s take: Kaberle-for-Brad Richards is a rumour has picked up a lot of steam lately. As a pure cash deal, it would save the Stars roughly $3.6 million while still allowing them to ice a competitive team (vital in terms of ticket sales). As a pending UFA for pending UFA deal, contract extensions would not necessarily be a factor either. However, Richards would have to waive for any deal to happen and therein lies the problem. There was some chatter about Mike Ribiero, who has 3 years at $5 million remaining, but with Richards set to depart after the season it’s likely the Stars would want to keep Ribiero in the fold due to their lack of depth at centre. From that perspective, I’d say the Richards rumour makes more sense for both sides. But again, the viability of that particular rumour depends upon his willingness to waive.
Why it’s possible: If Devils’ GM Lou Lamoriello has indicated anything this offseason it is that he is gunning for another Cup victory before Martin Brodeur retires; the Devils’ only offensive threat from the blueline is Andy Greene; Kaberle would likely be willing to extend; if the Leafs could be persuaded to take on one of the Devils’ veteran contracts along with a top prospect such as Josefson, Tedenby or Henrique, the Devils could conceivably make the finances work.
Why it’s unlikely: Brian Rolston has a significant cap hit plus a no-trade for the next two years and is on the decline; Jamie Langenbrunner may be available but he alone wouldn’t resolve the Devils’ cap woes; Dainius Zubrus has too many years remaining; the Devils have few other options available to resolve their cap issues as Lamoriello won’t move young roster players such as Travis Zajac or David Clarkson.
GB’s take: Nothing is impossible, but the idea of taking on a veteran on the decline — especially one with multiple years remaining at significant cost — for the sake of acquiring prospects is somewhat difficult to swallow. Mind you, I wouldn’t put anything past Lamoriello at this point, and Leafs’ GM Brian Burke has proven time and again to be nothing if not creative. As much as it pains me to say … Kaberle-to-NJ isn’t nearly as far out there as you might think.
Update: This scenario may have just become that much more plausible.
ONE FINAL SCENARIO
Why it’s possible: Burke has stated on many occasions he’d be pleased to re-sign Kaberle; Kaberle wants to be in Toronto; his skillset is a rare commodity.
Why it’s unlikely: The Leafs need help up front, and Kaberle is their best bargaining chip; if anyone needs a fresh start to rejuvenate his career, it’s him.
GB’s take: If the right deal comes about, Kaberle will get moved. But don’t for a second think Burke won’t stick to his guns and retain the player, if he can’t get what he deems to be fair value in the trade market. There is no sense in trading a player just for the sake of trading him; if the organization can benefit more from Kaberle’s presence than from the best-proposed return on the trade market, the better move is to keep him in the fold.
So there you have it … the top rumours circulating about potential trade partners for Kaberle, and the pros and cons of each situation in this guy’s opinion. What’s your take? Does he stay? Does he go? And if so, what do you see as an optimal fit for both sides?
Looking forward to your thoughts as always,