I remember listening to a game on the car radio in about 1999, and the newly-resurgent Leafs were icing three kid defensemen that I felt would be the core of an excellent blue line for the next ten years.
That blue line never came to pass, at least not in that form. Bryan Berard was effectively finished by a wayward Marian Hossa stick (I still feel this cost the Leafs at least one Stanley Cup - think about some of those teams that were close and add an in-his-prime Berard to them) and Danny Markov was dealt. Within just a couple years, only one of those three was still with the team. Eleven years later, Tomas Kaberle has finally moved on, as well.
Tomas Kaberle was the surprise of the 1998 training camp. Nobody expected the sixth-rounder to make the team. Throughout that camp, though, he simply belonged and there was no denying him. The word "poise" has been beaten to death over the years, but Tomas had it. Nothing ruffled him. At just 20 years of age, he looked 15 but played like he was 35.
His making the team, however, was not without issues. Nobody, for example, seemed to have the slightest idea how to pronounce his name. Throughout camp, Joe Bowen had been calling him "KAY-ber-lee", which eventually morphed into "KAW-bur-LAW." It took another year or so before everyone settled on "KAH-ber-lay," which was still wrong, but was potentially the best English compromise. Or not. One thing we learned about Tomas, he wasn't a complainer - no matter what we called him.
Quinn broke him in easily that first year. He only played in 57 regular season games and 14 of 17 in the playoffs. "Sheltered" would be our current term for it.
It served him well, though. Tomas never had a sophomore slump. By his second season, he played a full schedule, scored 40 points and never looked back. In 2000-01, the Leafs traded for Bryan McCabe, and the two of them would combine to become the Leafs most accomplished offensive pairing since the days of Salming and Turnbull.
Tomas was never a particularly physical defenseman. In 2001-02, he accumulated just two penalty minutes during the regular season, before going hog-wild and getting 16 in the playoffs (most of them likely against the Islanders). This never seemed to matter when there were others on the blue line who could hammer people and when there were goaltenders who could cover for the occasional defensive lapse. Later on, much as Larry Murphy discovered (to a far greater extent), being an offensive-oriented defenseman on a poor team with suspect goaltending could lead to an awful lot of criticism. This became particularly true of Tomas after he was badly concussed by Cam Janssens of New Jersey. While he did come back and play again that season, his game never really seemed right. This is really the first season since then that both halves of his game have seemed in sync.
In the first year after the lockout, Tomas signed what should have been a fantastic deal. He had the best season of his career with 67 points and JFJ signed him to a four-year extension with a no-trade clause. Tomas was set. That summer, once the UFA signings began, it became obvious that Tomas moved too early. Had he waited, there was probably another million per season out there for him, if not more. His partner, Bryan McCabe, himself signed a more lucrative deal a few months later.
Those deals would eventually make life miserable for everyone who signed them. With the team going nowhere, JFJ was fired and Cliff Fletcher brought in with the mandate of breaking up the core, all of which had no-trade contracts. Over time, McCabe, TUcker and Kubina would find themselves pushed out. Sundin and Kaberle were subject of numerous trade attempts, each of which they blocked. Kaberle turned down a deal that would have brought back a young Jeff Carter and Philadelphia's first-round pick, a deal that many bemoaned as Carter developed into a 40-goal scorer and the Leafs farm system languished. Sundin would move on to Vancouver and retire. Kaberle stayed.
By this season, Tomas Kaberle was the only tie back to the Quinn era, the last Leaf to have played at the Gardens. He was the only Leaf to have played a playoff game for this team.
Surrounded by kids, he had a great year. Defensive woes of previous years seemed to vanish and he played a great role in mentoring Luke Schenn. His assist totals were up and his play as puck mover was as good as it ever was.
Until today, anyway.
Tomas leaves the Leafs as their second-highest point getter amongst defensemen, and only the second to ever reach 500 points. He has passed everyone but Salming. With the longest-serving Leaf now standing a just a couple of hundred games and the defenseman with the highest career scoring numbers (as a Leaf) now being Luke Schenn, Tomas' totals are probably safe for a while.
It's the end of an era. Good luck to you, Tomas. Go accomplish great things, (except when you're playing us).
Visit the Tomas Kaberle Gallery at the HHOF.
|1994-95||HC Kladno Jr.||CzRep-Jr.||37||7||10||17|
|1995-96||HC Poldi Kladno Jr.||CzRep-Jr.||23||6||13||19|
|1995-96||HC Poldi Kladno||CzRep||23||0||1||1||2||2||0||0||0||0|
|1996-97||HC Poldi Kladno||CzRep||49||0||5||5||26||3||0||0||0||0|
|1997-98||HC Velvana Kladno||CzRep||47||4||19||23||12|
|1997-98||St. John's Maple Leafs||AHL||2||0||0||0||0||0|
|1998-99||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||57||4||18||22||12||+3||14||0||3||3||2|
|1999-00||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||82||7||33||40||24||+3||12||1||4||5||0|
|2000-01||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||82||6||39||45||24||+10||11||1||3||4||0|
|2001-02||HC Vagnerplast Kladno||CzRep||9||1||7||8||4|
|2001-02||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||69||10||29||39||2||+5||20||2||8||10||16|
|2002-03||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||82||11||36||47||30||+20||7||2||1||3||0|
|2003-04||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||71||3||28||31||18||+16||13||0||3||3||6|
|2004-05||HC Rabat Kladno||CzRep||49||8||31||39||38||7||1||0||1||0|
|2005-06||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||82||9||58||67||46||-1|
|2006-07||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||74||11||47||58||20||+3|
|2007-08||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||82||8||45||53||22||-8|
|2008-09||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||57||4||27||31||8||-8|
|2009-10||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||82||7||42||49||24||-16|
|2009-10||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||58||3||35||38||16||-2|
What the HHOF has to say about Tomas:
Only 18 years old, Tomas Kaberle was drafted 204th overall in 1996 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs. His father had been a Czech hockey representative and it was he who taught his sons the game of hockey. Tomas grew up in Kladno, 20 kilometers west of Prague. Kladno's most famous hockey talent is none other than Jaromir Jagr. But then Tomas Kaberle appeared in the training camp for the first time in 1997. He tested Canadian ice during two games with a farm team in St. John's, Newfoundland, but returned to the Czech Republic at the age of 19 to play 47 games for his old team Poldi Kladno, registering four goals and 18 assists.
In September 1998 he was back in Toronto. This time he garnered the attention of coach Pat Quinn, who put him through the hoops. His verdict actually came as a surprise to Kaberle. He was to stay with the team on a trial basis. He could not believe the news. And Pat Quinn did not leave him on the bench, sending him out onto the ice at every opportunity. It was a chance for Kaberle to refine his game. Kaberle played well and with time, he got more daring.
But the first season was not easy. He went through a crisis and suffered from fatigue. While he was taking a rest from the game, it began to look as if he might never see Stanley Cup playoff action. Ultimately this move, however, proved to be the right one. Kaberle, rested up and anxious to get back in the game, appeared in the Stanley Cup playoffs after all and played brilliantly. The Toronto Maple Leafs fought their way to the semi-finals where they were eliminated by the Buffalo Sabres.
From the start of the 1999-2000 season, Tomas Kaberle provided constant support for his team. He had acquired a healthy self-confidence and started collecting points. Though, like most defenceman, he earned his points mainly from passes, he even started scoring and is on his way to becoming one of the top defencemen in the league.
A member of the Czech Republic's Olympic Team in 2002, Kaberle would miss 13 games during the 2001-02 regular season before helping the Leafs reach the Eastern Conference Final against the surprising Carolina Hurricanes. In 2002-03 Kaberle suited up for all 82 games, establishing career highs in goals (11) and points (47).
In 2003-04, Kaberle played his 400th NHL game and surpassed the 200-point plateau. He spent the following season competing in Kladno due to the NHL lockout, and returned to the blue and white for the start of the 2005-06 season. That season, Kaberle tallied a career high 67 points and won a Bronze Medal representing Czech Republic at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
Aside from his Olympic experiences in 2002 & 2006, Kaberle represented his homeland at the 1998 World Junior Championships, the 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2008 World Championships the 2004 World Cup of Hockey.