TORONTO – Tomas Kaberle says he has no trouble playing for Ron Wilson.
There has been evidence that the veteran Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman has not seen eye-to-eye with his coach this season and a report Thursday in Toronto newspaper quoted an unnamed friend of Kaberle’s saying he was at his “wit’s end” with Wilson.
However, the Leafs longest-tenured player denies that it’s the case.
“I’m here over 10 years in the league and I’ve never (had an) issue with the coach and I hopefully never will,” Kaberle said before Thursday’s Leafs-Sabres game. “I would like to know who said that obviously. But it’s fun sometimes to read stuff like that in the papers.
“If that is the case, I would probably ask for a trade at the deadline, right?”
Kaberle has long said it’s his desire to spend his entire career in Toronto, but did leave open the possibility of a move at the deadline if GM Brian Burke came to him with the right situation. The 32-year-old has a no-trade clause that will disappear for a period over the summer and has one year remaining on his contract.
The latest evidence of a rift with Wilson came when the coach criticized his defencemen for poor plus-minus statistics following Tuesday’s loss to Atlanta. At that point, Kaberle was minus-16 and Francois Beauchemin was minus-15.
On Thursday morning, Wilson said he has “no issues” with Kaberle and indicated calling players out is part of his job.
“I’m here to try and make guys better so you have to be a boss,” said Wilson. “There’s kind of a way you turn it on and turn it off but in your casual conversations you’re not a friend – you’re friendly.
“I don’t know of a coach who gets invited out to dinner or invites players out to dinner in any sport. You’re not really the players’ friend, but you try to be as friendly and accommodating as possible.
“But you still have tough decisions you have to make and there’s lot of situations where you have to come down hard on people if they’re not getting the job done within the team structures.”
Kaberle’s teammates seemed to find the story amusing, with Wayne Primeau and Jamie Lundmark each joining a scrum around him with reporters.
Another player suggested that he didn’t understand why it was even a story, saying that his feelings about a coach usually depends “on how much I played the night before.”
One thing Kaberle did acknowledge is that he’s also concerned about his plus-minus. Even though some players think it’s a flawed stat, he pays attention to it.
“It’s a challenge for myself,” said Kaberle. “When you’re a minus guy you have to find a way to get it out of there.”
The Czech defenceman has played for the Maple Leafs since 1998 and says he’s learned to live with the media attention that comes with the job.
He certainly didn’t seem to have many hard feelings about the latest story carrying his name.
“There’s a lot of things that have been said over the 11 years I was here,” said Kaberle. “Obviously, a lot of things are going to be said even afterwards.
“It bothers me a little bit, but you know, what can I do with that?”