It wasn't that long ago when I concluded that a certain Leaf defender wasn't for sale, in a brilliantly prophetic post entitled, "Burke Won't Trade Kubina". Turned out to be complete nonsense.
So after regrettably leading my readers astray, I'm now trying to sort out where my assessment missed its mark. Not that I feel a little hoodwinked, but it was Burke's own words that seemed to indicate a preference for players who could survive and endure the NHL schedule, game in, game out, without setback. On the day the Leafs were officially eliminated from the playoffs, Burke declared:
"We were plagued by injuries. I don't make excuses, but playing without half your defence for a good chunk of the year...We have to find a defence that can stay intact. ... We have to figure out how we can get more games out of the guys we have or we have to get more durable people back there. I think that was our biggest problem."
I didn't say these things. DownGoesBrown didn't say these things. It was the real Brian Burke, actually speaking out loud in front of a reporter, something we know he rarely does.
Pavel Kubina played 82 games last year. He and Ponikarovsky were the only two Leafs to not miss a single game all season. Kubina led the team in overall ice time, totalling over 1,800 minutes. That's 22 minutes a game removed from a defence that can't stay intact and from a line-up that needs to get 82 "more games out of the guys we have" left.
Exactly a week ago, Burke re-enforced his intention to add toughness and durability:
"I like a lot of hitting. I like a lot of fighting. We have a passive group. All year long, when a trainer was on the ice – it was always our trainer– that really bothered me. It will be a more hostile group in the fall."
Maybe I was lookin' at it all wrong. Maybe it's Kubina's belligerence that isn't as truculent as it should be, an approach that keeps Kubina safe from injury, but doesn't discourage opponents from illegal runs at Van Ryn, Schenn, Kaberle, Finger, and Frogren. If only one defender is injured all year, then fine, look at that injury and that player to see why it happened, but if nearly all the defenders are injured at some point in a season, maybe it isn't so counter-intuitive to be looking at the one player who somehow remained healthy. Get it? Komisarek, Exelby, and Orr will take on the task of ensuring the defence stays intact, or at least, if somebody does get hurt, there'll be more then just one team's trainer on the ice.
Still, let's not forget who we gave up here. The leader for the Leafs in overall ice-time, Kubina also led the team with 9 powerplay goals, and was 2nd in game-winning goals with 4. A towering presence on the blueline (6'4", 244 pounds, 91 hits, 133 blocked shots, 94 PIMs), Kubina also seemed to wear the "A" more effectively then Kaberle. Though he was the Leafs' highest paid player, I rarely heard his value questioned. Kubina was one of the Leafs' most talented players, and also the most durable and consistent.