The clock is ticking on Tomas Kaberle(notes). The Toronto Maple Leafs have until Sunday to move the veteran defenseman before his no-trade clause kicks back in. What has been talked about for years, what he has never wanted, now seems almost inevitable.
“If it happens, it happens,” Kaberle’s agent, Rick Curran, said Wednesday. “We’re all big boys. He gave it as good a run as he could. At this point, does he anticipate or expect to be traded? Yeah. He does. He’s not naïve. He’s been around long enough, been a Toronto Maple Leaf long enough, to know that anything could happen in Leafland.”
Kaberle knows the deal. He agreed to it when he signed this contract, allowing the Leafs a window to trade him between the draft and Aug. 15 if they didn’t make the playoffs. He understands he has only one year left until unrestricted free agency, and so this is the Leafs’ chance to parlay him.
But he wants to stay in Toronto after 11 seasons, and he’s unhappy with the way Leafs general manager Brian Burke has been so open about fielding offers for him.
“The only thing that Tomas gets upset about is this,” Curran said. “For anyone who knows him, he’s a very quiet, laid-back, conservative young man. He has made it very clear what his intentions are. He wants to stay in Toronto. He recognizes that he’s a chattel, that he can be moved. If that’s the case, then move him.
“What he does not appreciate, what he does not enjoy, is being front-page topic of conversation every time Brian decides that he’s got to churn the waters a little bit in order to create a little interest.
“That’s fine. Pick up the phone and call your general manager colleagues. Talk to them about it. But don’t make him front-page news. He didn’t ask for it. He realizes that it’s part of it, of being a Toronto Maple Leaf, but don’t ask him to sit back and enjoy it.”
Burke seemed taken aback by Curran’s comments. He said Curran did not bring up these concerns when they spoke Monday. (Curran said he appreciated that Burke called Monday to give him an update. He said it was the first time they had talked since before the trade deadline. Both men go way back and otherwise complimented each other.)
“I will address [his concerns] with him personally,” Burke said. “I have no desire to escalate this. But the fact is: He drafted this clause. This no-trade and the timing of it, this isn’t my handiwork. I’m dealing with what I inherited. And so if he doesn’t like the fact that it puts his client in this position, he can certainly accept some of the blame. I don’t have to.”
Curran negotiated this contract with former Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. He said Kaberle gave him simple instructions at the time.
“He said, ‘I love Toronto. I love being a Leaf. I have no interest in going anywhere else. I believe that the team will eventually put things together and be a winner. I can’t imagine another city being more exciting than Toronto if you have a winning team,’ ” Curran said. “He said, ‘I want to be here for it.’ ”
Curran said Kaberle accepted a deal – his salary is $4.25-million (U.S.) this year – “making sure that he could stay in Toronto and that no one at any time would suggest that he’s an economic liability.”
But it had the opposite effect. The price tag made him attractive to others, an asset to be traded.
The Leafs struggled. They brought in Burke and coach Ron Wilson. Teams called about Kaberle. The very things that Kaberle loves about Toronto – the hockey-mad, sophisticated fans and media – made life difficult at times.
“Over the last two or three years, it’s been brought to my attention that he had the ability to move somewhere but he’d have to approve, and each and every time, he said, ‘I don’t want to leave Toronto,’ ” Curran said. “Many of his friends, his colleagues, in some cases ourselves, we would talk about whether it might be in his best interest. He would continue to say, ‘I made a commitment to Toronto. It’s where I want to stay.’ ”
Curran said two seasons ago, the Leafs asked him for a list of teams to which Kaberle would accept a trade before the deadline. He provided a list. He said they asked for another list last season, but this time he said no. He said he did tell a Leafs official he would talk to Kaberle about a couple of teams, “but that is not a list, unlike what Brian suggested in his press conference following the trade deadline last year.”
Burke maintained that he has no burning desire to deal Kaberle. He cautioned that Kaberle is not up for auction now. The highest bidder won’t necessarily win. If Burke doesn’t receive enough value, he will keep Kaberle.
Kaberle, 32, is a puck-moving defenseman who might look better if he had better forwards to whom to move the puck. In fact, it’s no secret that forward help is what Burke is after. The Leafs are strong in goal and on the blue line, but thin up front.
“There’s no zeal to move the player,” Burke said. “There’s no desire to move the player. But there is an obligation, I think. I think I’m obligated to exploit this and explore this and see. Can we upgrade the forward group with something that makes sense? So that’s what we’re doing. We’re listening.”
And things are heating up.
“The deadline is Sunday, and I don’t expect to see anyone’s best cards until probably Friday,” Burke said. “That being said, the offers improved dramatically over the weekend. We’re at a double-digit number of teams that are in. Unilaterally, without any phone calls from us, two teams dramatically improved their offer over the weekend. It’s going the way I thought it would go.”
Kaberle has a little leverage left. Will a team give Burke the value he wants for a veteran defenseman with one year left on his contract?
“I would think that the club that’s going to acquire Tomas, to give up that asset value, would want to be assured that they’re getting more than a one-year hockey player,” Curran said. “As required, he will definitely report to whomever it is that trades for his playing rights as long as they understand they have a one-year hockey player. So whatever it is they’re about to give up in asset value, they better gauge it accordingly.”
The Leafs could give a suitor permission to talk to Kaberle about an extension. Curran said that has not happened, but if it does, “any conversation with regard to an extension would obviously be relative to where it is, who it is and how Tomas would feel about going to that place.”
If the Leafs don’t trade Kaberle before Sunday, the franchise’s current longest-serving player will have control again. He would have to waive his no-trade clause for the Leafs to make a deal before the deadline. Curran said knowing Kaberle will be an unrestricted free agent July 1 “would certainly sway any thought process or emotions that go along with it.”
Curran also said the Leafs already have asked if he would discuss an extension for Kaberle if there is no trade.
“Of course, I would,” Curran said. “Why would I not? It’s not like he wanted to leave Toronto. Every time he’s asked, he’s said, ‘I’d like to stay in Toronto.’ ”
Why does Kaberle love Toronto so much? Why would he want to stay when the talk is so often about his departure?
“That’s the kind of kid that he is,” Curran said. “He’s not a carpetbagger. He’s not looking to go running around for the big money anywhere or anything. And again, it’s kind of one of the reasons why he’s just so disappointed at the way things are going.
“He’s only human. At some point, even he would probably say, ‘Okay.’ ”
“At some point,” Curran said, “if they want to move him and they do move him, even he has to resign himself to, ‘Fine, you don’t have me to whack around any more. I’m gone.’ ”