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Kaberle was never part of the Burke blueprint

Newly acquired Boston Bruins' Tomas Kaberle warms up prior to taking on the Ottawa Senators in NHL hockey action at the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2011. Kaberle was traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sean Kilpatrick

In the end, the truth was the Toronto Maple Leafs didn't really want Tomas Kaberle.

But general manager Brian Burke could never spell that out, not directly, and certainly not with the quiet, classy Czech veteran who had earned the respect and admiration from most of the fan base over his 12 seasons in Toronto.

On the day Kaberle was shuttled out of town, however, it was obvious who had shown him the door.

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"The player did not want to leave," Burke said shortly after the deal went through on Friday. "I want to be clear on that. He asked for an extension several times. I didn't feel that we were in a position to meet what I thought his demands would be.

"And so I said to him, well you've got to work with us to get something if you want to, and if not, we'll go from there."

The "something" ended up being considerable, with the playoff-ready Boston Bruins giving up a solid prospect in centre Joe Colborne, a late first-round pick and a conditional second-rounder in 2012.

"It was an important piece for us to get and obviously we had to pay a price," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said.

In all, it's quite a haul for a player set to walk for nothing in a little more than four months, but the reality is that Kaberle's pending unrestricted free agency was only because Burke and coach Ron Wilson had slowly pushed him down the lineup each year, from Toronto's ice-time leader three years ago to fourth this season.

The truth is that Kaberle - a soft, offence-first blueliner who struggled in his own zone - was never a Brian Burke player, was the final holdover of another "blue and white" diseased era and was, likely from the beginning, always going to be getting a ticket out of town.

Depending on how he is replaced in the off-season, that may be the right call. Burke has plenty of cap space, there are a few younger puck-moving blueliners available in free agency and the team added another prospect and a pick (or two) to a growing stable of young assets.

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But what was sold, in the end, as an amicable departure wasn't exactly that, not when Kaberle's preferred destination wasn't Boston but to simply stay put, where he could continue to mentor Luke Schenn and potentially retire as a Leaf.

On that front, this deal took some finesse from Burke, as he had to avoid the appearance of booting a fan favourite out of town - to a division rival that intends to re-sign him - and yet still continue to reshape his roster as desired.

"Getting into the playoffs by the skin of your teeth and getting your ass kicked in the first round is not my idea of building a championship team here," Burke huffed after reporters prodded why the Leafs were selling off assets even as they moved up the standing. "We're trying to get into the playoffs the right way.

"This is a guy that walks on July 1 for nothing, and we got a prospect and a first-round pick for him. So you can score it anyway you want."

Most will mark it down as a win, although in at least the near term, the Leafs' blueline will miss both the recently departed Fran├žois Beauchemin and Kaberle.

Burke insisted on Friday that he hadn't yet "thrown in the towel" on his team's long-shot playoff hopes, but Wilson was using a third defence pairing of Brett Lebda and Mike Komisarek at practice, a sign of the potential horror show to come at the position.

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Neither of those two Burke signings has played anywhere close to their contracts and can't be considered part of the solution for next season.

Nor are all the draft picks the franchise has acquired the past 10 days, at least according to its GM.

"We're going to try and turn [the draft picks]into something that helps us now," Burke said. "Draft picks have never been a priority. I said that about a month ago."

This was never, in other words, about the picks. It was about putting his stamp on the team and moving on with the Burke blueprint for success.

And that's something Tomas Kaberle was never a part of.

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