Like a lot of Leaf fans, I'm very concerned about Tomas Kaberle. I found Thursday night's loss to be very painful and sad. After a day of solemn reflection, here are my thoughts:1 - I agree with eyebleaf - Kaberle should have been in the press box if Wilson wanted to send a message. Or, let him play 2 periods, and then bench him for the third if he isn't playing well. It came across like a personal attack to have him benched in the first and then to be thrown to the lions cold.
2 - I agree with DGB - Kaberle's trade value will not go down - much. He's not playing well right now, but he's not playing his game at the moment either. A team that has the right pieces will make better use of Kaberle. Which leads to my next point -
3 - Kaberle misses Sundin more then anybody. Like Jari Kurri missing Wayne Gretzky, or Brett Hull missing Adam Oates. He has struggled all year long to find his groove. Perhaps, like some of us, he was hoping in the back of his mind that Sundin would return and that he would have someone else on the team to play with who sees the ice as well as he does. Suddenly, Burke says that pursuing Sundin doesn't make sense. How does that effect Kaberle, knowing that management has no immediate intentions of improving the team with superstar talent?
4 - Kaberle is an elite-level hockey player. He needs to play with other elite-level hockey players. It's depressing to be in a working environment with people who are not your professional equals. Seriously. If we're not going to sign Sundin we should trade Kaberle, 'cause he doesn't offer us a skill set we can use, and we don't offer him the tools he needs to succeed.
5 - It's next to impossible to play your best when you have to play with players that are so far below your skill level. You can literally see Kaberle trying to figure out how Jason Blake or Matt Stajan think. With Sundin and McCabe, it came naturally. He knew where they were, what they were going to do, and where they were going to go, and he could anticipate them making a great play - then he would make a great play - then they would make a great play again, and then we'd score. On this team, if Kaberle attempts to make a great play (which, by definition should be: a high-risk move, not easily anticipated), but his own teammates don't anticipate it or react fast enough, it becomes a high-risk blunder.
6 - Keep in mind that Kaberle is the greatest Leaf defenceman in more then a generation, since Salming and Turnbull. He is our Lidstrom, or Niedemayer, or Stevens. We will not replace him easily or soon. Luke Schenn will not replace Kaberle - they are totally different players. Tomas Kaberle only comes around once every so often and once he's gone, there won't be another.
7 - It wasn't all Kabby's fault in Phoenix or in San Jose. Antropov, Ponikarovsky, and Stajan all got killed against the Sharks. Poni got demoted to the third line, but Kabby gets benched for the whole first period of the following game. Then, on Kaberle's first shift, Antro's weak coverage at the point (reaching between his legs to catch the puck, I mean seriously WTF was that?) led to the odd-man rush, not Kaberle being out of position. On the 5th goal, Kaberle attempted to do what he's supposed to do, block a shot. He got his skate on the puck and it went right to a Phoenix player who slammed it into the empty net. Hardly a blunder, just unfortunate. The 6th goal was a turnover off a hard pass from Kaberle that hit Stajan in the skate. Now perhaps Tomas' pass is expected to be tape-to-tape, but where was Stajan's reaction? It's his responsibility, even if he can't control the puck, to deflect it, chip it - kick it if he has to - to get that puck out of the zone. Just letting it hit you while you continue to skate in the opposite direction, away from the play, is not the right reaction in that situation.
8 - It was unfair of Wilson, who sabotaged Kaberle's readiness and preparation by benching him through the first period, to then suggest that Kaberle's poor performance afterwards was an intentional response. "He apparently sent a message back by being minus-3". That's not fair. Kaberle was clearly trying, probably too much. And instead of just being able to think about the play, his head is filled with questions and doubts and silly mind games from the coach. And he doesn't trust or have confidence in his teammates, but instead looks very alone, because he's being singled out and made an example of.
9 - Finally, there's a defensive, protective, tribal instinct in me that wants to scream "LEAVE TOMAS KABERLE ALONE!!!" This couldn't be happening to a nicer guy. Tomas is one of the good-guys. He's the anti-Avery. He is anything but a McCabe-type clown. He is thoughtful, respectful, quiet, considerate, charming, and a true gentleman. What he lacks in passion, he makes up for with class. He is a QUALITY HUMAN BEING, who happens to be struggling to find his way right now on the Leafs. But don't you dare turn against this man. He has always been under-appreciated, under-rated, under-valued, and under-paid. Yet he has also been an absolute privilege to watch in the Blue and White for most of his 10 seasons with the Maple Leafs, and he has never said a bad word once about anyone, ever. Tomas isn't going to sulk and suck and bitch. Not even close.
"It starts with me. I have to be hard on myself. I never had problems with any coach. And I don't want any problems... Obviously, it was hard," Kaberle said. "I take it seriously. That's the way it is. I have to keep my head up and get my ice time back."
10 - Tomas doesn't need critics right now, he needs our support. He knows he hasn't played well. Everyone knows he can play better. What he definitely doesn't deserve, is to hear it from the Leaf fans at home. I really hope that tonight, not only does Tomas bounce back with a solid game, but that the ACC crowd really gets behind him and backs him up as well. I hope that the first time Kaberle touches the puck the audience reacts with cheers of encouragement and shouts of support, and not with cowardly, cold-hearted and mean-spirited booing. Kaberle doesn't deserve that. As I said before, he's not an Avery-Monkey or a McCabe-Clown. He's one of the good-guys. In fact, he's one of the best. He's not the family member you're ashamed of, he's the family member you're proud of. Right now he's having a tough time, but that means that we have to do the right thing, and show him our love and support.
C'mon, Tomas! Go Leafs Go!