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Rebuilding The Leafs Blueline

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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The Toronto Maple Leafs had Keith Aulie to bolster their blueline but the defence, once thought to be the club’s strong suit, faces a continued reboot.

Aulie is the only Marlie who can help the team immediately. Meanwhile, Tomas Kaberle, the most frequently talked about traded player in pro sports, seems destined to be swapped to a contender. Kaberle’s 36 points and minus one make him catnip for rival GMs looking to upgrade before the playoffs.

Likewise, his preference for an Eastern Conference team will be moot since Kaberle will be facing six more weeks of regular season plus an indeterminate number of playoff games.

That Kaberle is in play at all might seem odd. It’s not like the Leafs don’t need precisely his kind of first-pass wizardry, but there is little doubt that despite his inspired play of late, Kaberle would benefit from a move.

With Aulie now here and Francois Beauchemin gone, the Leafs fall into an interesting conundrum. Aulie is a conservative defenceman. Same with Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek. Dion Phaneuf has occupied himself with keeping the puck out of his own net with mixed results. For now that leaves Carl Gunnarsson and Brett Lebda, two players with offensive inclinations but no real history of point production and Kaberle. Jake Gardiner, acquired from Anaheim in the Beauchemin deal is probably a year away from the NHL. Korbinian Holzer played two games for the Leafs, but his minus-5 reaffirms the idea that he is not yet ready.

In other words, if the Leafs are to trade Kaberle, they might consider getting a player like him. Granite jawed defencemen are nice enough but while Beauchemin did not thrive, he at least offered the team equal measures of offence and defence.

The good news is a glut of free agent defencemen are about to hit the market July 1. Depending on your taste, there are top-end rearguards (the Habs Andrei Markov), or dependable veterans in Chris Phillips and Steve Montador.

For now, the Leafs need make do but it’s best to remember that when the season started, the defensive corps was considered its strongest suit. Now, it is subject to widespread recall.

Much of the problem is solved, of course, if 22-year-old goalie James Reimer continues to show he is ready for prime time. But for a GM who prides himself on building from the defence out, retooling the defence must come as a surprise.

For a team ferociously searching for a number one centre, a team with pieces such as Kristopher Versteeg and Kaberle to deal, the focus has to be once again split.

Everyone knows Brian Burke is an American-born Irishman. But sometimes he must feel like a Dutchman at a dyke.
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