Kaberle is no longer a Toronto Maple Leaf. He was, without a doubt, one of the best players to wear the Maple Leaf over this trying time in team history. He was a good player and a good person and I think we all owe him our respect. I sincerely hope that he's greeted with unanimous applause when he comes back.
Having said all of this, it was clearly time to move on. Kaberle was not in Brian Burke's longterm plans. That was clear from the time Burke brought in Komisarek, Beauchemin and Phaneuf. None of those players are of Kaberle's calibre, but it's clear that the team is headed in a different direction.
The clock is ticking on Kaberle's career as well and the opportunity to play on a strong Boston team, alongside Zdeno Chara is a great opportunity for Tomas and I'm happy for him. This will be a positive for both sides.
The Leafs add a player that I've been coveting for a long time. Back in June I wrote about a Kaberle for Colborne deal making a lot of sense. He's really big and he's a playmaker which would probably remind you of another player that Burke had in the past in Ryan Getzlaf. I never thought that the Leafs would get a first rounder in addition to Colborne but that's the way the market has turned this year.
The Leafs now have two late firsts and what will likely amount to an early second which means that baring a trade, they'll be picking three times in the first 40 selections of this year's draft. Add to that Jake Gardiner and Joe Colborne and it's safe to say that Brian Burke's accelerated rebuild is underway.
Suddenly the Leafs are a team with assets. They have lots of cap space and lots of young talent. Let's look at next year's roster.
MacArthur - Grabovski - Kulemin: This has been the Leafs' best line so far this year and I have very little doubt that MacArthur and Burke will get a new deal done. All three of these players are on bargain contracts and have been producing well above what their contracts would suggest they should be.
Kadri - Colborne - Armstrong: These guys are probably going to be our third line and if the development curve continues for Kadri and Colborne develops as most people think he will then this is an electric third line by the end of the season. Colborne's size and vision will make him a powerplay asset that this team desperately needs. If we can convince him to use his size a little then we're going to be very, very happy with this guy. Colborne's acquisition also permits Kadri to move to the wing which seems to be a better fit for him at the NHL level.
Kessel - ??? - Lupul: Alright, I'm saying it. Brad Richards will be targeted aggressively this offseason. Once we re-sign Schenn, MacArthur, Grabovski, and Reimer, as well as some roster plugs, I expect the Leafs will have about $10M to spend in free agency. If Richards doesn't come to Toronto this offseason it will be because he would prefer to play elsewhere, it wont be the money. Richards said in the Globe earlier in the year that he sees Toronto as a premier destination and a place he'd love to play. I'm not saying it will happen but I would say that we've got as good of a chance as anyone. Lupul is no stud but Richards and Kessel combined with an adequate scorer gives us a legitimate first line.
Our fourth line will be classic Burke. Tim Brent has proven his worth, especially as a penalty-killer. Mike Brown fits that role well also. Tough to see where Colton Orr fits in, especially with his recent string of injuries. Suffice to say, we'll have a defensively responsible fourth line that kills penalties.
Schenn - Phaneuf: This is a very physical pairing but Schenn rarely puts himself out of position to make his hits. He'll cover up Phaneuf's errors as well as anyone. If Phaneuf could ever rediscover his offensive flair this could be a great first pairing. Worst case scenario, he doesn't and it's still not bad.
Aulie - Gunnarsson: Admittedly, Gunnarsson has been inconsistent this year but I have a lot of faith in him bouncing back next year. Aulie will be prone to some mistakes at times but he's got a lot of potential and hasn't looked out of place in the pre-season or since being called back up to the big club in the wake of the Beauchemin deal.
Komisarek - ???: Komisarek and Lebda would be an unmitigated disaster. Jake Gardiner is a prospect that I like a lot (see our top 20 prospects) but I think he's better off spending some time in the AHL before making the move to the NHL. Mikus, Holzer and Gysbers are all players that might make the jump next season but I would prefer to get a solid veteran to fill this spot.
Goaltending: It's tough to say what we're going to look like in net next year. How will Gustavsson bounce back after a tough season? Will Reimer continue his hot play? What about Scrivens and Rynnas? I can't even begin to tackle this question and I've never been particularly good at evaluating goaltending talent. What I do know is that there's potential in our crease moving forward. Nothing on that list makes me feel comfortable heading into next season but it's possible that those guys surprise or that Burke adds a reliable goaltender in free agency.
This Kaberle deal set us up nicely heading into next year and in the future. Our system is rounding out, our roster is rounding out and if we can land one of the small handful of big free agents in the offseason we might see the rebuild-on-the-fly that Burke has been talking about.
It's time to get excited, Leaf fans.