NAPLES, Fla. (Feb. 18) -- The wide-spread notion that Maple Leafs' defenceman Tomas Kaberle loses his no-trade protection this summer is inaccurate. There is a clause in Kaberle's contract that provides the Leafs a window of opportunity to trade him after a season in which the team does not make the playoffs, but it doesn't take effect until there is one year remaining in Kaberle's deal. Or, after the 2009-10 season. As such, Kaberle is in the clear for the next three NHL trade deadlines -- including the 2008 version -- and he can remain with the Leafs at his behest.
General manager Cliff Fletcher would not come straight out and admit he's been discussing a deal for Kaberle, but he sounded a trifle frustrated when I spoke with him late tonight. "Tomas did not waive his no-trade clause and his agent [Rick Curran] says he will not waive, so he's out of the mix," Fletcher said. "He's going to be with us for a long time. We're talking with other teams -- like everybody else -- but there is nothing on the front-burner right now."
It is believed that Fletcher could have easily traded Kaberle to any of a half-dozen clubs in exchange for a beneficial package of future parts. But, the veteran defenceman has not waivered in his unwillingness to withdraw his no-trade clause -- part of the five-year contract extension he signed with John Ferguson in February, 2006. It calls for a modest salary of $4.25-million per year through the end of the 2010-11 season. Kaberle told me at the NHL All-Star Game in Atlanta last month that it would not be worth Fletcher's time or effort to even approach him about a deal. "I signed my long contract because I want to stay a Leaf, and that won't change," he said, convincingly.
As a result, Kaberle has perhaps nullified Fletcher's best opportunity to make an impact trade before next Tuesday. Cliff still has the Mats Sundin card to play, but it's obvious that Kaberle had been the subject of his most intense discussions. It was reported earlier today that the Leafs and Flyers were deep in talks about the Czech-born defender, and it's difficult not to believe the speculation. Fletcher sounded resigned to his fate when we spoke tonight, and he's been up-front with reporters. "Look, we have five players that have no-trade clauses in their contracts and we've got to to obtain permission before dealing any of them," the GM shrugged again today. "That's just a fact of life, and we have to live with it."
The unfortunate part for the Leafs is that Fletcher is unlikely to acquire anything of a grandiose nature unless he can peddle at least one of his "restricted" players -- Kaberle, Sundin, Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe or Pavel Kubina. All have publicly sworn allegiance to the crest, though McCabe has been a bit less fervent than the others. His contract, however, still has $14.5 million of committment remaining after this season, with an average salary-cap hit of $5.75 million. So, it won't be easy to move, and McCabe would likely provide only a small list of cities to which he'd accept a trade.
Fletcher is talking with other teams about "depth" moves -- players he could unload to playoff-bound opponents -- but these deals would not fetch the types of return that would substantially help him in moving the Leafs forward. Hal Gill, Chad Kilger, Kyle Wellwood, Nik Antropov, Alex Steen and Matt Stajan are all available for a price, but are not certain to be heading anywhere. Fletcher would trade Wellwood in a heartbeat, as no player in the Toronto organization has plummeted as spectacularly this season. While recovering from his two groin operations, Wellwood has shown what many in the Leafs' hierarchy believe to be a lack of competitive gumption, and that reputation has quickly spread through the rest of the league.
That's why the veteran GM has made an effort this week to fashion a deal that would clearly abet the future of the Leafs. Kaberle has been the subject of his labour, but Fletcher will now turn elsewhere after receiving unconditional roadblocks from the defenceman and his agent. It must be emphasized that Kaberle is completely within his rights to exercise the no-trade option. He negotiated the clause in good faith with the Leafs.
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