As we embark on our annual TLN Top 20 Prospects series, it’s important to remember and recognize the special players that paved the way for tomorrow’s stars. Over the next few weeks, we will be announcing our first ever TLN All-Time Greatest Leafs Team, announcing a new player every day until we’ve filled out our 23-man roster.
Thirty seconds left in the game. Leafs are down by one and are on the powerplay. Lose the faceoff because they can’t trade for Yanic Perreault anymore. The other team dumps the puck. You have time to recover it, make one zone entry, and possibly take a shot or two. Who do you send to start if off?
If your answer isn’t Tomas Kaberle, you’re objectively wrong.
Getting a player who made this much of an impact on the Maple Leafs with the 204th pick in one of the worst drafts of the past twenty-five years is bloody miraculous. Like, it ranks up there with Henrik Lundqvist, Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyuk as the most impactful late round picks of our generation.
Kaberle began making an impact on the Leafs as a quality NHL defenceman by the age of 21, and already an upper-tier offensive defenceman in his sophomore season. In twelve years with the team, Kaberle put up 40 points eight times, and with three years cut short while he was close to that mark, should have realistically done it in all eleven post-rookie years. Three of these were fifty point seasons, and even that likely turns into five or six without Cam Janssen throwing a hit that bordered on reckless endangerment.
His underlying numbers looked pretty solid as well. War-on-ice estimates him as being a positive relative possession player in three of the four pre-shot attempt seasons they’ve got on record, and while he was just barely below the curve in 2007/08, the two years that followed had him as a cut above his (admittedly not very good) peers. It is worth noting, however, that Kaberle’s reputation as an offensive defenceman lead to him playing much easier minutes; typically starting his even strength shifts closer to the opposing goalie than his own.
In any event, he was one of the premier offensive defencemen of the 2000s. Kaberle’s 420 points in that decade are the fifth-most by any point man, trailing only Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Gonchar, Brian Rafalski, and Scott Niedermayer.
Most Memorable Moments
There aren’t a ton of classic Kaberle moments out there from when he was on the Leafs, in the sense that nothing particularly stands out. But the thing with him was that he was consistently doing amazing things; stretch passes that lead to breakaways, feeding Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker, Mats Sundin, and many others for one timers on the powerplay, and charming the masses with his broken English.
Perhaps his standout moment was his exit; he was originally part of the “Muskoka 5” moment that saw Toronto’s star players all use their no trade clauses to stay in Toronto, blocking them from sending him to the Philadelphia Flyers for Jeff Carter and a first-round pick. Admittedly, the eventual return of Joe Colborne and two picks wasn’t quite as nice, but was still something, and lead to Kaberle winning the Stanley Cup we all wanted him to one day lift (albeit in the wrong uniform).
But, we shouldn’t dwell on that. This was a guy who wanted to be here and played super well while he was here. Even if he basically never shot the puck, unless there was bragging rights at stake:
- 2nd all time, points by defenceman (520)
- 2nd all time, assists by defenceman (437)
- T-4th all time, goals by defenceman (83)
- 3rd all time, games played by defenceman (878)
- 3rd all time, points-per-game by defenceman (200+ GP) (0.59)
- Represented Leafs at NHL all star game, 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009
- Played for Czech National Team at 2002, 2006 (Bronze), 2010 Winter Olympics
- Played for Czech National Team at 2004 World Cup of Hockey
- Played for Czech National Team at 2005 (Gold), 2006 (Silver), 2008 (All-Star), 2010 World Championships
Tomas Kaberle is probably the second best defenceman in Leafs history, just behind Borje Salming. He was the backbone of the team’s powerplay and their best offensive defenceman for over a decade, and ranked right up there with the NHL’s best during that same time period. The only bad things he ever did in Toronto was make mediocre players look good, and decide that he didn’t want to leave a place that he loved.
…hey, he’s only 37. Is it too late to offer him a PTO?