Thursday, February 17, 2011

What happens to the Maple Leaf transition game with Kaberle gone?

If you listen to radio call in shows, the number of Tomas Kaberle fans in Toronto had been dwindling. This has not been a surprise to be since Leaf fans have always preferred tough guys over skill players. Afterall he has had 3 seasons with fewer than 20 penalty minutes. But few NHL players come with a complete set of tools – scoring, skating, playmaking, body checking, shooting, defence, and fighting. Yet Kaberle possesses a very valuable set of skills – the ability to carry the puck up the ice and accurately pass the puck across long stretches of ice. Both are important to a team’s transition game, ie, transitioning from defence to offence.

So with Kaberle gone what will happen to the Leafs’ transition game? Who is going to move the puck up the ice on the power play or head man the puck to the speedy Leaf forwards? There is no defenseman on the team with these skills other than Kaberle. Perhaps the next best skating defenseman on the team is Brett Lebda who has spent most of the season in the pressbox. I don’t see him eating up Kaberle’s minutes. To replace him, Brian Burke will need to go shopping and likely pay a hefty price. So if Burke wants to win now, then why didn't he just sign Kaberle to an extension? Well I really know the answer. It's been a while since the Maple Leafs have made the playoffs but back in the days when they did, Kaberle more of less disappeared. The Bruins may discover that in about 6 weeks. Though perhaps playing with Zdeno Chara will provide him with some cover.

Still Tomas Kaberle was one of the team leaders in assist every season and has averaged about 45 assists per year over the last 5 seasons. This year he is on pace to register 50 assists. He is tied for 15th in the NHL in assists and 4th overall in assists for defensemen. He may not be a physical player but he is durable. He has played 6 seasons where he has appeared in all 82 games and has not missed a game this season. All this adds up to a player well worth the $4.25 million he will receive this season. I hear the fans yelling “shoot shoot” but that’s not his strength and he understands that. He is 99th overall in shots on net for defensemen which is at the low end for a top 4 defenseman. His most success has always been when paired with a defenseman that has a big shot like Bryan McCabe of Pavel Kubina.

I am really concerned what happens to the Leaf offense with Kaberle gone. When I see Mark Rechhi, a 42 year old forward, playing the point on Boston’s power play it tells me how rare these types of players are and why Boston actively pursued Kaberle.

Joni Mitchell said it best: you don't know what you got till it's gone.

Incidentally, for those who believe Brian Burke is a total idiot (largely because of the Kessel trade) well he just traded a soon to be free agent with a no trade contract for the equivalent of two first round draft picks and a conditional second round pick. Oh did I mention he is also 32 year old.

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