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Trying To Make Kaberle A Complete Player

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
Let’s take this one right up front.

Ron Wilson benched Tomas Kaberle for all of the first period, Thursday night in Phoenix.

When Kaberle did play he turned in a minus-3 effort and everyone was gifted with an 8 a.m. skate Friday morning only 10 hours after the ink was dry on the Maple Leafs’ 6-3 loss.

Here’s what I find interesting. The consensus today is that Kaberle is headed out of town.

That’s the part that needs a little work.

If you are trying to get rid of a guy, you do not publicly call attention to his recent shortcomings, as Wilson did post-game in Phoenix.

You don’t incrementally decrease his ice time and give much of it to rookie Luke Schenn and the oft-forgotten Ian White. Wilson has done just that.

No, you play him, surround him with your best guys and wait for someone to bite.

Don’t believe the notion that a trading avalanche will happen any day.

Playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs right now is the safest bet in hockey. First, very few players are traded at this time of year. GM Brian Burke hasn’t had enough time to eyeball every player and he has self-imposed trade moratorium that kicks in next Tuesday. That should give everyone plenty of time to impress.

I won’t guarantee Kaberle won’t be traded but I will guarantee you I know why Wilson busted him and it wasn’t to shake him free of his no-trade clause.

Wilson is doing it to make him a better player.

Kaberle’s occasional defensive lapses have not been a front burner issue for years. Management fancied the Leafs a contender. They needed a confident Kaberle. He brought a skill set, a peerless view of the ice and first rate skating and passing abilities, that made him indispensable. You would be crazy to imperil that with heavy-handed demands, especially considering the limited contributions you were getting from other elements of the roster and how narrow the margin for inclusion in the post season.

The same went with Jason Blake, who staggered to a 15-goal season last year after scoring 40 the season before.

New season, new situation.

Cliff Fletcher may have been replaced by Burke, but his summer pronouncements remain achingly true. For top six forwards the Leafs have Matt Stajan, Mikhail Grabovski, Niklas Hagman and, for lack of a better alternative, Nikolai Kulemin.

Schenn is the best defenceman and will be for the foreseeable future with Pavel Kubina as the most worthy partner. After that, it can seem like pretty thin gruel.

The Leafs have proven through the strong play of Grabovski and Hagman that they can identify talent. They need trading partners and they need material.

Tomas Kaberle, running at moderate efficiency, isn’t worth as much as Tomas Kaberle playing flat out. Same thing with Blake, another player on whom Wilson has used a withering tough love.

Of course, the best way of staying is to play well. They are not adverse to that here.

So don’t assume just because a player is being singled out or yanked from the lineup that he is on the next flight out of town.

Wilson is working it. He will pull every lever. That’s how you toughen your personnel. That’s how you build an organizational identity. I’m guessing that’s how you win.

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