To hear Luke Schenn tell it, Tomas Kaberle is in some ways the heart and soul of the Toronto Maple Leafs, a well-liked veteran who brings as much value off the ice as on it.
And while Schenn defers to management when it comes to personnel decisions, it's clear the young defenceman would like to see his mentor and close friend stay in Toronto.
"I've got nothing but great things to say about him," Schenn said. "He's a guy you can look up to, as far as how he carries himself. He's well respected by everyone. No one knows what the future holds for him, but I feel very lucky to have been on the same team as him."
In his 12th season with the Leafs, Kaberle is expected to be on his way out of town in the near future, either via trade or come July 1 when his contract expires.
There has been no discussion on an extension and, as has been the case the past two seasons, trade talk is picking up around the veteran defenceman in anticipation of the NHL's Feb. 28 trade deadline.
Because Kaberle has a no-trade clause, it will be up to him if he is ultimately dealt. His agent, Rick Curran, has denied they will offer Leafs general manager Brian Burke a list of teams he will accept a deal to.
Even if there's a change on that front, it's believed Kaberle would only allow Burke to approach two or three Eastern Conference teams, making a deal difficult to pull off.
Just how much he would be missed on the Leafs roster, meanwhile, isn't exactly known.
While Kaberle has always had a quiet presence in the Leafs locker room, often leaving the scene before media arrive, Schenn said he carries himself differently with the team, cracking jokes and spending time with the younger players on the team.
"Guys just really enjoy being around him," Schenn said. "On the road, everyone always wants to know what Kabbie's doing for dinner. He's a good guy, and he's actually a pretty funny guy, too."
The Leafs oldest defenceman, at 32, has formed an especially close bond with its youngest blueliner, offering him tips and encouragement ever since Schenn arrived at training camp as a wide-eyed 18-year-old in the fall of 2008.
"I was pretty much in awe of him," he said.
The two now play together almost exclusively at even strength, and Schenn has assumed a much bigger role this season, playing 22 minutes a night as one of the Leafs top four defencemen.
He credits Kaberle as being the teammate who has helped him the most along the way.
"Pretty much after every shift, we come back to the bench and we'll talk over that shift," Schenn said. "He's always really positive. Even when I make a mistake, he tells me 'Don't worry about it.'"
As for the annual trade discussion surrounding his teammate, Schenn offered a half-hearted response - "That's the business" - to the notion Kaberle may be in his final few weeks as a Maple Leaf.
"There's been talk ever since I've been here," Schenn said. "Three years in a row. You really don't know what to expect. Obviously everyone realizes it's the last year of his contract and it's up to management what they want to do, but I know Kabbie loves it here. And for me, personally, I love to play with him."