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Since you’re gone the moonlight ain’t so great

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You can also find what’s written below, my goodbye to Tomas Kaberle, at Pension Plan Puppets. Thanks for the platform, gents …

I wanted to wait a few days before writing the post I never wanted to write at all. In the meanwhile, a week has passed, the Leafs remain on fire, and, let’s be honest, there isn’t much left to be written about Tomas Kaberle that you haven’t already read. Hell, there wasn’t even any time to reflect on, or to mourn, Kabba’s departure. A few hours after the trade was announced, there was Tomas, in Ottawa, having ditched blue and white, the only colours he’d ever worn, for white, black and gold. Twenty-four hours later, the post-Kaberle era was underway in Toronto, with the Leafs and Ottawa Senators doing their best, through 65 agonizing minutes and a shootout, to slap hockey in its face.

“[Tomas Kaberle] did not want to leave. He asked for an extension several times.”

- Brian Burke

While I remain — first, foremost, and always — a supporter of the logo on the front of Toronto’s sweater, it’s impossible, over the years, to not become attached to certain names and numbers on the back of the jersey. Kaberle and his 15 were one of those names and numbers.

By now, you know how I feel about Kaberle. I wanted him to remain a Maple Leaf. More than that, I wanted him to retire a Maple Leaf. I believe he’s got years of elite hockey left in him. Another contract’s worth, at least. While Kaberle’s game is not without its obvious shortcomings, I thought he was the perfect mentor for Luke Schenn. I certainly didn’t find it a coincidence that Schenn was enjoying a rebound year while playing alongside Kaberle. And if there’s one area where Schenn drastically needs to improve, it’s with the puck. Who better than to mentor Schenn, the future captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, than Kaberle?

Don’t get me wrong: I found the return for Kaberle nothing short of astounding. Phil Kessel was traded for two high first-round picks, both potentially top-10 picks, and a second-round pick. In exchange for Kaberle, Brian Burke received a 2008 first-round pick, 16th overall, in Joe Colborne, a late to-be-determined first-round pick in 2011, and a conditional second-round pick. Two firsts, and potentially a second. It’s impossible to be unhappy with that haul. Not when it was known that Kaberle’s list of teams he’d waive his no-trade clause for was one team long. Not when Joe Colborne’s scored three goals in three games, plus one rather filthy marker in the shootout, for the Toronto Marlies.

Kaberle didn’t have to agree to leave. Frustrated by the fact Burke did nothing about his advances, Kaberle could have used his no-trade clause and stayed put. He didn’t. It became a meme on Twitter after the trade to Boston was announced, and remains just as important today: Thank you, Tomas.

Life goes on. Kaberle wears #12 now, and plays for the rival Boston Bruins. The Maple Leafs have officially embarked on their yearly quest for the promised land: Eighth place in the Eastern Conference. But in the days since the trade, since Burke announced that Kaberle wanted nothing more than to remain a Maple Leaf, I’m having a hard time buying in. Even as the Leafs slowly climb the standings. I understand why Kaberle had to go, why assets desperately needed to be recouped. But the fact Kaberle was never a Burke-type player, or a Ron Wilson-type player, while Mike Komisarek and Brett Lebda are, just doesn’t sit well with me, even though I believe the Leafs, as a franchise, are headed in the right direction. I’m so confused.

I’m emotional, obviously. Kaberle was the last link to days gone by; to better days. To Maple Leaf Gardens. To the playoffs. To winning. To the end of my teenage years, and my youthful early 20s. When everything — even home-ice advantage in the first round, and division titles — was possible.

As ardent a Kaberle supporter as you’ll ever find, I found comfort in what was written, tweeted, and said about #15 in the aftermath of the trade. He was appreciated. His accomplishments, available for one and all to see in the Leafs’ record books, were applauded. Kaberle came out of nowhere to have a stellar Maple Leafs career. He goes down as one of the greatest offensive defenceman Toronto has ever seen.

The post-Mats Sundin years have done wonders for Sundin’s legacy. As the Maple Leafs continue to struggle to score goals, and struggle to find elite talent up front to play alongside Phil Kessel, more people are beginning to understand what a truly special and game-changing talent Sundin was.

I’m confident the same will happen with Kaberle, and the legacy he leaves behind. With time, more people will come to appreciate the way he was able to rush the puck up ice, and his ability to make that first pass. Kaberle’s vision, patience, and innate hockey sense were extraordinary, and will be very difficult to replace. While Toronto’s power play has struggled under Wilson (what hasn’t struggled under Wilson?), Kaberle was never what was wrong with it.

Tomas Kaberle was always going to leave. The writing had been on the wall for years. But that didn’t make saying goodbye any easier. Come playoff time, other than the Maple Leafs, I’ll be watching and rooting for the Boston Bruins. And until Kaberle signs a new contract with Boston, or another team on July 1, I’ll be hoping against hope that he returns. The door’s always open, until it’s closed.

Let nobody tell you otherwise: Kaberle’s a winner. He wanted to win in Toronto. Like you and I, Kaberle knows that winning the Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs is as good as it can possibly get.

Image courtesy Per Englund. Life does indeed go on.

Written by Navin Vaswani

February 25th, 2011 at 4:18 pm

A paean to Kaberle

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First and foremost: Happy new year. I hope the holidays treated you well, and sincerely wish that 2011 is the best year yet, for you and me. If you read anything, anything at all, I wrote in 2010, no matter the locale, thank you. I’m grateful. My only resolution is to write that much more in 2011, especially in this space.

Below is an ode to Tomas Kaberle, cross-posted from Pension Plan Puppets. There’s no better way to celebrate the beginning of a new year than to celebrate one of the greatest to ever play for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Kaberle is love

On October 13, 1998, Tomas Kaberle, then a boy, only 20 years young, registered the first point of his NHL career. It was an assist, of course, on a Garry Valk goal. And it came on the power play, of course. Little did we know at the time, but the assist would be the first of many.

On December 20, 2010, to little fanfare, Kaberle, now 32 years old, tallied assist number 419 of his career. It also came on the power play, this time on a John Mitchell goal. I know what you’re thinking: What in holy hell was John Mitchell doing on the power play? But that’s not the point. (The point being: Fire Wilson.) Along with his 81 career goals, Kaberle’s 419th assist gave him 500 points.

Kaberle, an afterthought, drafted 204th overall in 1996, whose rosy cheeks came out of nowhere in 1998 to make Pat Quinn’s new-look Toronto Maple Leafs, had done it: 500 points. In the long and storied history of the franchise, only 10 players, and only one other defenceman, the legendary Borje Salming, have put up more points. Think about that for a minute or two. Ponder it. Have a coffee, stare out your window, and contemplate the fact.

For comparison’s sake, 22 Montreal Canadiens have registered 500 or more points. Kaberle’s milestone is no small feat. From Garry Valk to Mats Sundin, Sergei Berezin to Steve Thomas, Jonas Hoglund to Derek King, Tie Domi to Darcy Tucker, Alex Mogilny to Gary Roberts, Eric Lindros to Jason Allison, Nik Antropov to Alex Ponikarovsky, Phil Kessel to Kris Versteeg, and finally Mikhail Grabovski to John freakin’ Mitchell, Kaberle, like you and I, has been there through it all; has assisted on goals by each of those guys. In the end, no matter what you think of him, give it up, and show Kaberle some love.

A throwback

I’ve always held Kaberle in high regard; always had a soft spot for him. (Not where you think, sicko.) But I’ll be the first to admit that Tomas is not without his faults. He’s never been the physical defenceman so many want him to be. He’ll always be a touch too soft. Tomas, lord knows, will never shoot the puck enough. But it’s through those faults that I’ve come to appreciate Kaberle even more. Like you and I, he’s not perfect. He’s done the best he can with his abilities, and he’s done pretty well, wouldn’t you say?

Over the past two years, I’ve embraced advanced baseball statistics. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve wasted at FanGraphs. Today, I’m a contributor at NotGraphs, FanGraphs’ alternative baseball blog. While I’ve waded into the sabermetric deep end, and mock with my fellow sabernerds those who still come at me with a baseball player’s OPS, I can readily admit that I know next to nothing about advanced NHL statistics. Corsi Ratings, Fenwick Numbers, Zone Starts, Quality of Competition, they’re all gibberish to me. I’m a journalist. Numbers, of any kind, prove difficult. I’m not sure I can be a two-sport sabermetric nerd, the blogging equivalent of Bo Jackson, or Deion Sanders.

I bring this up because, in a sense, it’s all worked out rather conveniently. I watch Kaberle night in and night out not worried about his Corsi rating, or his Fenwick score. I watch Kaberle as a sort of throwback defenceman. I sit back and appreciate what I’ve always appreciated about Tomas Kaberle: His innate ability to pass the puck; his skill in rushing the puck up ice, and, on the power play, taking the opponent’s blue line; his patience, the juking and jiving, along with the head-fakes. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed watching Kaberle for his tremendous abilities in the basics of this beautiful game of hockey that captivates us all.

Through the wire

In the final year of his contract, every game could be Kaberle’s last in Toronto. I don’t expect Tomas to be a life-long Maple Leaf. I think I’d only be setting myself up for disappointment if I did. But I believe Kaberle when he repeatedly says, as he did over the excruciating summer, that he wants to remain a Maple Leaf, and retire a Maple Leaf.

You see, Kaberle’s not so different from you and I. Like us, Kaberle has lived through both the good and bad times, the good and bad teams, in Toronto. And much like us, he wants to stick around. As we soldier on as Maple Leafs fans, so too does Kaberle as a Maple Leaf. Tomas isn’t interested in jumping ship. Why? Because, like you and I, Kaberle knows how good it can be around here. And I’ll never flog him for that.

I’ll understand if Brian Burke asks Kaberle to waive his no-trade clause. Considering the state of the union, it would be prudent for Burke to get a return on one of the team’s few tradable assets. I’ll also understand if Kaberle and the Maple Leafs go their separate ways on July 1. It’s a business. But I’ll be damned if I won’t celebrate one of the finest players to ever put on a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, and don’t ask you to as well.

A legacy

Have a look at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ record books. Littered throughout, you’ll find Tomas Kaberle’s name. Eighth in games played; fifth in assists; eleventh in points. Should Tomas remain a Maple Leaf in the years to come, Rick Vaive (537), Ted Kennedy (560), Bob Pulford (563), and Frank Mahovlich’s (597) point totals are all within sight. One more long-term contract and Tomas Kaberle could go down as the seventh-highest scoring Toronto Maple Leaf, ever. Not bad for a shy young man from Rakovnik, a small town in the western Czech Republic.

Through all my years as a fan, dating back to the early 90s when this unbelievable journey began, I own two Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys. One of them is Kaberle’s. Thanks, Tomas.

Image of a smiling Tomas Kaberle thanks to The Associated Press, via daylife.

Written by Navin Vaswani

January 3rd, 2011 at 12:50 pm