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Burke holds firm, keeps Kaberle in Toronto

Burke holds firm, keeps Kaberle in Toronto
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The deadline passed, so veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle will be staying with Toronto

Brian Burke wasn't bluffing.

The Toronto Maple Leafs' general manager said he received a significant number of inquires for defenseman Tomas Kaberle(notes). He said the offers were improving and that some were legit.

And it seemed Kaberle would be moved before his no-trade clause kicked back in Monday. Even Kaberle expected so, his agent, Rick Curran, said last week.

But all along, Burke said he wouldn't give away Kaberle, that there would be no deal if he didn't get enough value in return, and that none of the offers were good enough yet.

By the time the deadline arrived at Sunday's end, the offers still weren't good enough.

No trade. Kaberle stays.

"While a number of clubs made offers to trade for Tomas, none of them reflected Tomas' value to our team," Burke said in a statement. "I understand a period like this is stressful to the player, and we are pleased that there is a resolution, and we can all continue to prepare for the coming season."

If there is a winner here, it's Kaberle. He never wanted to leave Toronto. He has declined to go in the past under his no-trade clause, and now he has control over whether he is traded this season. At worst, he can finish the year with the Leafs, become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and choose where he plays in 2011-12. At best, he can sign an extension with the Leafs, who already have asked if he would consider one.

The Leafs aren't losers, though. They didn't acquire a winger with size and scoring ability, as they had hoped. They didn't get a "futures package," as Burke called it, either. But there is value in keeping Kaberle, even if it is for only one more season, especially if they keep him beyond 2010-11.

There is no question the Leafs remain thin up front and need to address the issue, despite the additions of Kris Versteeg(notes), Colby Armstrong(notes) and Mike Brown(notes). But Burke is more than content with the Leafs' defense, which features Kaberle, Dion Phaneuf(notes), Francois Beauchemin(notes), Mike Komisarek(notes), Luke Schenn(notes), Carl Gunnarsson(notes), Jeff Finger(notes) and Brett Lebda(notes).

"I think we have the best group in the league on defense from one through seven, one through eight," Burke said. "We don't have the first-team All-Star. We don't have a Duncan Keith(notes). But if you look at our group one through seven, I will put us up against any group in the league."

This Kaberle business has been discussed forever, it seems – in the media, on Burke's BlackBerry, even underground. Burke said he takes the subway to work once a week. He would talk about it with the fans.

"They understand this: 'OK, let's see. We're a small forward group. Can we get a big forward?' " Burke said last week.

But trading Kaberle was easier said than done.

First, there was the Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) mess. When arbitrator Richard Bloch sided with the NHL, voiding the 17-year, $102 million contract Kovalchuk signed with the Devils because it circumvented the salary cap, it muddied the market. Burke told The Fan 590 in Toronto on Friday that the two teams involved with Kovalchuk – he didn't name the Devils and Kings – might have been more involved with Kaberle had Kovalchuk's situation already been resolved.

Then there was the matter of Kaberle's contract. His $4.25 million salary made him attractive, but with only one year left on his deal, a suitor would want to lock him down longer-term before giving Burke what he wanted in return. Curran made that point last week.

Some think Kaberle is on the downside of his career at 32. But he's a smart, puck-moving defenseman who could play at a high level for years to come. If the Leafs were strong up front, Kaberle would look better moving the puck to those forwards, the Leafs would put more pucks in the net and spend less time in their zone.

So Kaberle stays. And that's OK.

"He's a good player," Burke said last week. "He's a good person. He's a fitness freak. So this is a guy, if we don't get an offer that we believe reflects his value, we're keeping him."

Burke kept his word.