Much has been made about the uncertain future of Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin. It’s not really all that uncertain, though. Chances are heavily in favor of Sundin wearing a uniform other than the blue and white by the time the trade deadline passes Feb. 26.
Come to think of it, the Vancouver Canucks wear blue and white these days, don’t they? So perhaps the notion of Sundin retaining those familiar colors isn’t so preposterous after all.
But this much we know, the Maple Leafs season is rapidly going down the sewer, which provides the perfect storm for Sundin’s departure. Despite his public proclamations that he doesn’t want to leave, several people close to Sundin insist that he will indeed waive his no-trade clause and would prefer to make it look as though the Leafs orchestrated his exit.
After everything he has endured as captain, dealing Sundin would probably be the classy thing for the Leafs to do.
Almost as much has been made of the fact that GM John Ferguson will be fired at some point very soon, but there are a number of other possible transactions that need to be examined by whichever person, or people, will make the immediate decisions for this franchise.
One of them is the possibility of trading defenseman Tomas Kaberle. Even though Kaberle has a limited no-trade clause – the team only has the right to trade him during a specific off-season window in years they don’t make the playoffs, which would mean they’d be able to deal him this summer – he has also made it clear to those close to him that, while he won’t ask for a trade, he has been so miserable this season that he would welcome one if the Leafs approached him.
The irony of all this, of course, is the Leafs might have been able to do something to avoid their current situation if they had dealt Kaberle two summers ago.
You’ll recall during the summer of 2006, Chris Pronger demanded a trade from the Edmonton Oilers and the Leafs were high on his list. Kaberle’s five-year deal and no-trade clause still had a couple of days before it was due to kick in and the Oilers asked for Kaberle and winger Alexander Steen, who was coming off an impressive rookie season.
The Leafs were willing to part with Kaberle, but dealing Steen was a non-starter in the deal and the Leafs gave up getting the kind of dominant defenseman they’ve never had in their history because they wouldn’t trade a player who is looking very much like a career third-liner.
It’s those kinds of personnel decisions that are going to get Ferguson fired. If you can believe it, the Leafs have never had a single Norris Trophy winner in their history and they could have had one if not for Ferguson’s stubborn insistence on keeping Steen.
Whoever replaces Ferguson will have the opportunity to deal Kaberle now, but there would undoubtedly be risks attached to dealing far and away the best defenseman on a defense corps that’s already one of the worst in the NHL. But if the Leafs are intent on blowing this thing up rather than tinkering, Kaberle is one player who could fetch a significant return and one whose departure must be seriously contemplated.
After all, despite the Maple Leafs woes, Kaberle is 11th in scoring among defensemen and is on pace for a very respectable 51 points this season. His ability to move the puck and, particularly, make the first pass out of the zone, is something that almost every team needs in abundance.
He’s averaging 24:51 in ice time this season and is easily capable of taking on a 30-minute workload in the playoffs without a significant drop-off in his game. Any team trading for Kaberle would have him not only for this season, but another three after this one at a very reasonable salary cap hit of $4.25 million.
The problem from a Leafs perspective is that Kaberle turns 30 in March. They probably think he’s still young enough to contribute to a turnaround because they saw the Philadelphia Flyers do it last year. But the Leafs are a far more desperate case than the Flyers ever were.
First of all, the Flyers had young players with potential such as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, the type of commodities the Leafs are without. Also, the Flyers were able to get rid of all their big-money contracts, which left them with plenty of cap room when the likes of Daniel Briere became free in the summer.
The Leafs aren’t near as lucky. Players such as Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina, Darcy Tucker and Jason Blake are virtually untradeable and all have significant salaries in the coming seasons. By the way, that’s another reason why JFJ is going to get fired.
That leaves Kaberle and Sundin, two players whose departures would undoubtedly leave the Leafs worse off in the short run, but could provide the foundation for an earnest rebuilding plan the Leafs haven’t seen in decades.
Kaberle could fetch at least as much as Sundin in a trade, probably even more because he’s seven years younger and still has three years remaining on his deal. That would make him far more valuable than a trade deadline rent-a-player.
It would cause pain and anguish, not to mention a couple more years out of the playoffs, but it’s simply something the Leafs must seriously consider if they’re intent on paying anything more than lip service to their intention to become a contender once again.
Ken Campbell’s Cuts appears Mondays only on The Hockey News.com.
One of THN’s senior writers, Ken Campbell gives you insight and opinion on the world of hockey like no one else. Subscribe to The Hockey News to get Ken’s expertise delivered to you every issue.