Time for Leafs to get creative
Switching Tomas Kaberle to centre isn't a crazy idea
Now that the Tomas Kaberle trade window has come and gone, it's time for the Maple Leafs to move forward and get creative.
It has long been thought and hoped by long suffering Leaf fans that the team would turn its best asset via trade into a top-six forward. Specifically, the Leafs need a No. 1 centre who can feed sniper Phil Kessel the puck.
Toronto continues to be embarrassingly weak up front. The free-agent season has produced only Colby Armstrong.
Trades have brought in Kris Versteeg and spare part Mike Brown. That is certainly not enough to compete in the ever-improving Eastern Conference.
The Leafs' strength arguably is on the blue-line with Kaberle joined by Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarson, and Brett Lebda, along with the forgotten Jeff Finger.
Perhaps the Maple Leafs already have the top-line centre they covet on their current roster — and I'm not talking about 2009 No. 1 pick Nazem Kadri.
The former London Knight standout needs more time to perfect his game and mature into that role. A full season in the American Hockey League will only benefit Kadri, and it will protect him from the media and the passionate Leafs nation who are expecting this kid to be the second coming of Darryl Sittler, Doug Gilmour or Mats Sundin.
Is it crazy to think that Kaberle can transform from an all-star defencemen into a top-line centre in the National Hockey League, and quickly?
It's been done before.
Hockey Hall of Famer Red Kelly was an all-star defenceman for Detroit in the 1950s, winning four Stanley Cups for the Red Wings. Once Kelly arrived in Toronto in the 1960s, Maple Leaf GM/head coach Punch Imlach asked him to switch to centre.
Like Kelly, Kaberle is a great playmaker, who has stellar vision on the ice. Kaberle is also an underrated skater who could keep up with the speedy Kessel.
Kelly turned the Big M — Frank Mahovlich — into one of the most productive goal scorers in NHL history. Kessel is on his way to becoming that, and might get there quicker with Kaberle in place as his centre to aid him.
The fact that Kaberle is already familiar with Kessel, the Maple Leafs organization and playing in hockey mad Toronto is another bonus. He wouldn't need to take time to get acclimatized to new teammates, or playing in a new city like free agents or traded players often do. All he needs is to get used to playing a new position and fast.
If the Leafs were to consider this idea, GM Brian Burke should set up a meeting ASAP with Kaberle and head coach Ron Wilson to accelerate Kaberle's development as a forward.
In fact, bring in Leafs alumnus Kelly to the meeting too. Who better to speak to Kaberle about this switch of positions than the man that pulled off the unthinkable five decades earlier?
Time is running out.
An impact trade won't be happening now. The free-agent pool has dried up, and the top prospect shouldn't be rushed. Training camp is less than four weeks away, and the Leafs first regular season game is 52 days away and counting.
It's not a lot of time for Kaberle, but it can be done.
Just ask Kelly.
Jeff Domet is the producer for Hockey Night in Canada Radio