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Ulmer: Kaberle Will Be Missed

Friday, 02.18.2011 / 1:12 PM ET / Mike Ulmer's Blog
By Mike Ulmer  - Mapleleafs.com commentator
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Ulmer: Kaberle Will Be Missed

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This is what Tomas Kaberle is leaving.

His hockey address for nearly a dozen seasons.

The colours he wore through 878 games, seventh-highest in club history.

Kaberle’s games played total is greater than that of Frank Mahovlich, Ted Kennedy or Wendel Clark. Among Leafs’ defencemen, only Borje Salming has more points.

There have been 858 Maple Leaf position players. Ten recorded more points than Tomas Kaberle. He is in the top 1.2 percentile in points.

If there were a Maple Leafs Hall of Fame, Tomas Kaberle would be a first-ballot lock,
Not bad for a player selected with the Leafs 13th choice in the 1996 draft. The club used its first pick, 36th overall to draft the long-forgotten Marek Posmyk. Kaberle is the only player chosen by the Leafs in 1996 to spend any significant time in the NHL.

There has never been anything mysterious about Tomas Kaberle’s game. From the moment Pat Quinn decided to hang on to him through rookie camp, training camp and into the 1998-1999 season, Kaberle has more or less been the same player.

He is a sublime passer. He rarely gives the puck up in his own end regardless of pressure. He is an ideal set-up man for the kind of power play bomber the Leafs had in Bryan McCabe. He logs big-time minutes and is tied with Luke Schenn for second-most ice time behind Dion Phaneuf.

Kaberle could be one of the top four defenceman for the vast majority of NHL teams. He is a terrific skater and remarkably durable. He played all 82 games in six of his 11 seasons. True to form, he has not missed a game this season.

But what he is not has been equally clear. He is not a physical player. He is not a defensively-oriented player. His unwillingness to shoot, especially on the power play, borders on the legendary.

Now he is gone and while there has been plenty of talk about Joe Colborne and his impact on the club, Kaberle was a career Leaf who took less money in his last contract for what he considered the privilege of playing in Toronto. He resisted every effort to trade him. The names of the players said to be on their way to the Leafs but for Kaberle’s no-trade clause, (Jeff Carter and  Phil Kessel in a convulated way) will now pass into myth.

Ever level-headed, Kaberle rolled through the bad times and quietly savored the periods of solid team play he helped bring about. Consider the astonishing number of people he saw come and go. Three coaches: Pat Quinn, Paul Maurice and Ron Wilson. Five GMs: Ken Dryden, Quinn, John Ferguson, Cliff Fletcher and Brian Burke.

Sixteen goalies: the list includes Tom Barrasso, Jeff Reese, Felix Potvin, Glenn Healy, Justin Pogge, Ed Belfour, Trevor Kidd, Andrew Raycroft, Curtis Joseph, J.S. Giguere and James Reimer

He played with Hall of Famers: Ron Francis and Brian Leetch and a host of possible future members: Phil Housley, Alexander Mogilny, Joe Nieuwendyk, Eric Lindros, Gary Roberts, Mats Sundin, Glen Wesley, Joseph and Belfour.

Kaberle worked with a rogues gallery of fair and bad defencemen. The list includes Wade Belak, Bryan Berard, Aki Berg, Sylvain Cote, Cory Cross, Nathan Dempsey, Dallas Eakins, Jeff Finger, Pierre Hedin, Ric Jackman, Alexander Karpovtsev, Jyrki Lumme, Phil Oreskovic, Karel Pilar and D.J. Smith. None, of course, could get within shouting distance of Kaberle’s stylish game.

The marriage of the Leafs and their longtime defenceman had to end. The team saw no future for him in view of the salary he would likely command. The Leafs have already spent heavily on the blueline but in truth the money is only part of the story.

GM Brian Burke envisions a tougher blue line built around the towering Keith Aulie and the flinty Dion Phaneuf. While he is as yet unsigned, Leafs prospect Jake Gardiner is likely a year away from replacing some of Kaberle’s offensive dash. The only player on the current roster who seems capable, Carl Gunnarsson, has endured an up and down season and would be extraordinarily hard-pressed to replace Kaberle’s vision and ability to find a player coming out of his zone.

So for all the advantages of adding Colborne, the Leafs are losing an asset as well, one who will be perilously difficult to replace. Few fans will mourn. Sometimes in long marriages the good seems to crumble away. All everyone talks about is the bad.

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