Much ado about nothing over Kaberle

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo! Sports

In the end, after so much talk about a potential trade, there wasn't much talk about an actual trade.

The Toronto Maple Leafs' hockey operations people held a conference call Sunday to discuss their options regarding defenseman Tomas Kaberle(notes). "We did debate," Leafs general manager Brian Burke said. "We didn't have to spend a lot of time on anything that was presented."

Burke communicated with Kaberle's agent, Rick Curran, briefly about 11 p.m., an hour before Kaberle's no-trade clause would take effect again. Burke suggested to Curran he didn't think anything would happen.

Nothing did, and when Kaberle woke up Monday at home in the Czech Republic, he was happy to know he would return for a 12th season in Toronto, the only NHL home he has ever known.

"He was relieved that he didn't find himself having to rush into Toronto and sell his place and be ready to travel en route to somewhere, when he didn't know where that somewhere was going to be when he went to bed last night," Curran said. "He's glad that he's still a Leaf."

That is the most amazing part of all this. Kaberle is glad he's still a Leaf.

The soap opera is far from finished. The first time Kaberle meets the media upon his return to Toronto, he will have to answer questions about this summer saga. Trade talk will continue to swirl, even though Burke says he always will honor a no-trade clause and Kaberle always has been uninterested in waiving his. Then there will be the monitoring of his contract situation with only one year remaining on his deal.

But what else is new?

"Quite frankly, I don't think Tomas has any challenges," Curran said. "I mean, it's not like it just happened. It's been going on for a while, and Tomas has had to address it physically and emotionally and has all along, and he's been fine. So he'll continue to do the same, and he'll continue to approach the game as he has all along."

Kaberle remains interested in talking to the Leafs about an extension, and Burke said he plans on talking to him about one "at the appropriate time," though "there is no rush on that."

"Can we afford another high-quality offensive defenseman who's a fitness freak and a good guy?" Burke said. "Yes. We can afford him."

That might seem hard to believe, considering how the Leafs have been fielding offers for Kaberle and have so much on defense already. They have almost $28 million of cap space allocated to Kaberle, Dion Phaneuf(notes), Francois Beauchemin(notes), Mike Komisarek(notes), Luke Schenn(notes), Carl Gunnarsson(notes), Jeff Finger(notes) and Brett Lebda(notes). Kaberle accounts for only $4.25 million of that, and you can expect he'll want a raise. (Think Burke will give him a no-trade clause like his predecessor, John Ferguson Jr., did?)

But Burke points to the structure of Kaberle's no-trade clause as the reason for all the drama and denies the Leafs wanted to get rid of him. Kaberle's contract gave the Leafs a window to trade him between the draft and Aug. 15 if they didn't make the playoffs. In that window, Kaberle was like any other player. Burke received offers for others, but they weren't talked about nearly as much because there was no deadline.

"All I've done is answer questions about Tomas Kaberle for six weeks," Burke said. "I'm sure he's glad that that part's over. Not once did I stand up and say, ‘Let's talk about Tomas Kaberle.' The media said, ‘What's going on?' "

Kaberle seemed like a good bargaining chip for the Leafs to acquire a forward with size and scoring ability. But there were several headwinds holding up a trade. Kaberle had only one year left on his contract – and the Leafs never gave another team permission to talk to Kaberle about an extension – making him essentially a long-term rental. The Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) situation caused uncertainty in the market. Many teams were up against either the salary cap or their own budgets.

"We didn't feel we received an offer that made sense, that reflected Tomas' value," Burke said. "In my mind, the number of teams that have cap difficulty right now, it confused the issue. There were a couple other things that confused the issue. As I said when this process began, this is a player we're happy to keep."

Kaberle is a good player. He is not a physical, shutdown presence in his own zone, but he is a smart puck-mover. You can play that style effectively well past Kaberle's age (32). And if you're thin up front, as the Leafs are, you'd better be deep on the back end. Burke considers the Leafs' defense corps the best in the NHL from top to bottom.

"I keep telling people this: How many defensemen do you think we went through the year we won the Cup in Anaheim?" said Burke, the Ducks' GM when they won it all in 2007. "You need double digits. You don't need seven. You don't need eight. You need double digits.

"Now, I'm not saying this team's going to take a run to the finals. I'm just saying, our plan is to make the playoffs. That's our goal. You need eight defensemen minimum to do that. Most teams go through nine, and a lot of teams get to double digits.

"We do not have extra defensemen right now. We may not be able to dress them all for opening night."

The Leafs have bigger issues than that.

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