Well ladies and gentlemen, all the jibberjabber and nonsense has come down to this. In less than 36 hours, the largest window of opportunity for the Leafs to improve their lineup since the departure of Mats Sundin will be closed, and if they don’t get a significant improvement over the lack of return they got for the big Swede, you can bet your life savings that there will be some very unhappy Leaf fans, myself included. With the deadline getting closer and closer, there’s a couple of possible scenarios that could play out.
1. If there actually are teams that sincerely desire the services of a 32 year old puck moving defenseman with over 400 career points, Burke’s decision to hold out for the best possible offer might pan out perfectly. If there’s more than one team that has decided they absolutely have to add a shot of offense to their blueline, Burke should be able to pit their offers against each other to get as close to what he wants in a premier top six forward in return. However, while there are some clubs that could use him, I doubt there’s any team out there that’s about to break open the treasure chest for a defenseman coming off a -16 season with only one year left on his contract.
2. As Howard Berger insinuates in his article earlier today here, Burke may have come to terms with the fact that he may not be getting as large of a return for Kabby as he initially demanded, and his comments yesterday seem to indicate that he would be willing to accept a trade that would not benefit the Leafs as much in the immediate future, but would yield them, at the very least, a young forward and a reasonably high draft pick.
3. A third, and to most Leaf fans, the least palatable, option is that Kaberle remains in Toronto for the final season of his contract. While I personally feel that it would be in the best interest of the franchise to move him, a defensive corps of Kaberle, Phaneuf, Beauchemin, Komisarek, Schenn and Gunnarsson would undoubtedly be one of the deepest in the league, and I’m sure Jonas Gustavsson would have nothing bad to say about that.
With all these possibilities in existence, there’s certainly no shortage of trade rumors that have surfaced over the last few days/weeks/months. The most talked about destinations for Kaberle have been Los Angeles, New Jersey (depending on Ilya Kovalchuk), San Jose, Boston, Washington and most recently, St. Louis. I don’t see the Kaberle for Savard trade happening, and if it does, it could be a huge risk. Yes, Marc Savard and Phil Kessel are phenomenal together, but the addition of a 32 year old concussion-prone center with a huge price tag doesn’t exactly put my heart at ease for the future of the team.
Rumors involving the Sharks have included such names as Logan Couture, Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi. Clowe definitely fits the Brian Burke mold for tough players with a knack for scoring and a willingness to crash the net, but Couture had some very impressive performances in the playoffs, and he could turn out to be a very solid player. His youth is certainly appealing, but there’s also no guarantee that he will pan out as a legitimate scoring forward.
Los Angeles would likely send Wayne Simmonds to Toronto for Kaberle if they can’t lure Kovy, and I’d have to say I’d be satisfied with the gritty young scorer. Simmonds should be a virtual lock to develop into a top six forward, and if there’s any type of bidding war, Burke should probably be able to garner at least a draft pick of some value as well.
Mike Augello, one of the Leaf analysts at HockeyBuzz.com, seems to think that the most likely destination for Kaberle is St. Louis, where the Blues have apparently expressed interest in moving David Backes. When you think about it, it could make sense, except for the fact that the Blues are already a little wanting when it comes to scoring. Adding Kaberle and Jaroslav Halak in the same offseason would be quite a haul for the once-perennial playoff contenders, and if they could re-sign him to an extension, could have a chance to return to the postseason. For the Leafs, Backes was a member of Burke’s handpicked 2010 silver medal-winning US Olympic team, and created no shortage of controversy when he garnered attention by fighting members of the Canadian team in the weeks running up to the tournament. (Unfortunately for Backes, the rest of Team USA and their supporters, order was restored in the hockey world and the gold medals went home where they belong.) He’s in the last year of his contract, so it wouldn’t be a risky signing, and Backes would get a chance to redeem himself after scoring only 19 goals last year and earn himself a better contract.
I honestly don’t even know where the Devils would come into play and don’t really know who I’d want off their roster in exchange, although I’m sure David Clarkson and Travis Zajac have had their names tossed around. Washington has a number of potential targets, and the addition of a veteran defender to help Mike Green mature might be a very solid move for the Caps. With their league-leading offense, the Caps have no shortage of weapons to offer the Leafs, and if Eric Fehr or Tomas Fleischmann+ were to be offered, I’d be happy, especially if it was Fehr.
The truth is, I have no idea where Kaberle’s going to end up. I pray to God that he gets moved, but if he doesn’t, he should have himself a hell of a season in what is likely the last contract year of his career. As much as I hate to say it, I honestly wouldn’t terribly mind having him on the team, and if he were to finish his career in Toronto, he would probably end up getting a chance to compete in the playoffs again. Still, the chance for the Leafs to add crucial pieces to their team is too large to pass up, and the next day and a half will be very interesting to say the least.
My personal prediction, if Kaberle does indeed get moved, is that he’ll end up in California for a season, be it LA, San Jose or Anaheim (I didn’t include them in the discussion because even the remotest possibility of Bobby Ryan being added to the Leafs makes me go temporarily insane with joy), and end up signing somewhere else in 2011. Based on what has been discussed over the last few months, the offers out of the West Coast have been the ones that have tickled my fancy. Of course, there’s always the possibility that BB is cooking up something that no one sees coming (ala Phaneuf, Giguere trades), so for now, all we can do is watch, pray and wait.