The Fading Fortunes Of Tomas Kaberle

Jonathan Willis
December 10 2011 12:58PM

When the Toronto Maple Leafs dealt Tomas Kaberle to Boston at last season’s trade deadline, most fans were appreciative of the return that Brian Burke managed to finagle from the Bruins for his services. As time goes on, it’s rapidly becoming apparent exactly how good a deal that was for the Leafs.

Yesterday, Kaberle was traded by the Carolina Hurricanes to Montreal. Carolina signed Kaberle to a three-year contract in the off-season, a regrettable decision that the club quickly came to regret. How bad were things? The Edmonton Journal’s very connected Jim Matheson put it this way one week ago:

If Carolina president Jimmy Rutherford had signed Tomas Kaberle to a one-year, $4.25-million contract, people might be shrugging at Kaberle’s total erosion of talent, along with his emotion meter reading very low. But three years? Who else wanted to sign Kaberle last summer? He reportedly showed up at camp out of shape, and they’ll bury him in the minors or buy him out.

So when Montreal, in what many view as a desperation move, picked up Kaberle from the Hurricanes in exchange for Jaroslav Spacek (injured for a good chunk of the season and hardly playing spectacularly when healthy) the response wasn’t ‘why were the Canadiens able to get a big-name defenseman so cheaply’ it was ‘why are the Canadiens willing to take a chance on Kaberle’s three-year contract?’

All of this underlines just how well Burke made out in the trade that sent Kaberle to Boston.

In exchange for a few months of service from the veteran defenseman, Toronto got:

  • Prospect Joe Colborne
  • A first round draft pick in 2011
  • A conditional second round draft pick in 2012

Joe Colborne was taken in the first round of 2008, but was struggling in the AHL when the Leafs picked him up. He’s since turned things around completely – he started by scoring at a far better pace to finish of 2010-11, and this year has 20 points in 14 AHL contests. He also has four points in a nine-game NHL cameo.

That first round draft pick was packaged (along with the Leaf’s second round selection) in a trade to Anaheim in exchange for the 22nd overall selection in 2011 – a selection that the Leafs used on Tyler Biggs, a big American forward with grit to spare and somewhat questionable scoring skills.

The “conditional” part of that second round pick was one of two things: the Leafs would get it if a) the Bruins re-signed Kaberle after his contract expired or b) if the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup finals in 2011. Since we know the second thing did happen (Kaberle may not have been a key contributor, but the Bruins probably aren’t unhappy with the outcome), Toronto will (update: would) own Boston’s second round pick at this summer’s draft.  However, the Leafs dealt the pick to Colorado in exchange for John-Michael Liles, who has 17 points in 29 games and is all by himself essentially a better version of Kaberle.

Not a bad return at all for a guy that eight months later is increasingly thought of as having an albatross contract.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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