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Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman at least kicks the tires on Tomas Kaberle

13

August

Saturday could be a big day around the National Hockey league as it is the last day the Maple Leafs can trade defenseman Tomas Kaberle before his no-trade clause kicks in at midnight Sunday. There have been reports of as few as four and as many as nine teams involved in negotiations.

Given Tampa Bay's needs on defense, it is naive to believe general manager Steve Yzerman hasn't at least inquired about getting Kaberle into a Lightning uniform.

Is Kaberle a good fit for the Lightning? Seems like it on the surface. Kaberle, 32, is a sturdy, efficient puck-moving defenseman who had seven goals and 49 points in 82 games last season for Toronto. He averaged 22:21 of ice time. Yes, he was minus-16 on a bad team. But he had three goals and 25 points on the power play.

Kaberle also has one year left on a contract that will pay $4.25 million next season. Even without the expected salary going to other way in a trade, Kaberle fits under the $59.4 million salary cap as Tampa Bay has about a $10 million cushion. It also means the Lightning is not locked into anything long term. That fits perfectly with Yzerman's idea of evaluating his roster over the next season or two as he reshapes and rebuilds the organization.

In the meantime, Kaberle would give the Lightning the puck-moving defenseman new coach Guy Boucher needs to make his system work at maximum efficiency. (For the time being, let's assume Paul Ranger is not coming back as we have not heard otherwise.) Kaberle also would provide a formidable quarterback on a power play that already boasts lots of up-front firepower. In short, it would make the team, given the parity in the East, a real threat. Not bad for an organization that is supposed to be in rebuilding mode.

Now, the downside. The Maple Leafs, ideally, want a top-six forward in return. Given the Lightning's lineup, that would seem to mean Ryan Malone. Look at it this way: Tampa Bay is not trading Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis, Simon Gagne, Vinny Lecavalier or Steve Downie, who Yzerman really wants to sign. Malone has struggled his first two years with the Lightning and, maybe most important for this discussion, has a bulky five years and $19.5 million left on his contract.

The problem with dealing Malone is the Lightning doesn't have anyone in the organization to replace what the left wing can bring when he is healthy and motivated; that is, a physical presence who digs pucks in the corner, stands in front of the net, can fight and score 25 to 30 goals. If Malone is trade bait, maybe Yzerman makes another move to fill that position.

On the other hand, Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke indicated on Thursday in a Toronto radio interview that he could be persuaded to take a package that includes draft choices and a high-level prospect. Then, the question is, can the Lightning, which desperately needs to rebuild its organizational depth, afford to part with any players or draft picks that might help that project. Tampa Bay is deep at goaltender. Might there be a fit there?

It is an interesting equation. Does Yzerman go for what might be a very short term (one-year) gain on Kaberle, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, but give away some of what he may need to build the franchise going forward? Or does he sit tight with the gains he has made so far this summer and see where they take him?

Sounds as if Saturday might be interesting.

[Last modified: Sunday, September 12, 2010 12:15am]

    

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