Campbell's Cuts: A Budding Norris candidate

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The Toronto Maple Leafs like to portray themselves as an organization rich in tradition and excellence, but the fact is they have never had a Norris Trophy winner in their history.

That may change this year because Tomas Kaberle is, at this moment, the best defenseman in the NHL. Not only does he lead all NHL defensemen in goals with seven and points with 17, he's playing 28 minutes a game and excelling in all situations, including defensively (where he's a plus-4).

The knock on Kaberle used to be that he could easily be physically intimidated and that one good rub along the boards would take him out of the game. But Kaberle is bigger, stronger and mentally tougher now and that is no longer the case.

And much to the delight of Maple Leafs fans who would watch him sometimes pass the puck into the net, Kaberle is displaying that he has a hard, accurate shot. With 42 shots on goal this season, Kaberle is on pace for 203. He used to be content to go low with his shots and hope a forward would tip them, but now he's just as likely to go top corner, which is where the majority of goals are scored in today's NHL.

Kaberle for the Norris. The campaign begins now.

THE HONOR ROLL: Ruslan Salei, Brendan Buckley, Timo Ahmaoja, Kevin Kellett, Johnathan Aitken, Elias Abrahamsson, Chris Lane, Thomas Brown, Cory Sarich, Mike Martone, Alexei Tezikov, Derek Morris, Toni Lydman, Christian Lefebvre, Mark McMahon, Greg Kuznik, Remi Royer, Jeff Paul, Andy Johnson, Mike Vellinga, Peter Ratchuk, Ben Storey, Ric Jackman, Evgeny Tsybuk, Joel Kwiatkowski, Jesse Wallin, Mathieu Descoteaux, Chris Hajt, Tom Poti, Chris Allen, Joey Tetarenko, Alexandre Couture, Jesse Black, Peter Hogan, Daniel Archambault, Brett Clark, Lance Ward, Josh DeWolf, Colin White, Josef Boumedienne, Josh MacNevin, Darryl Andrews, Willie Mitchell, Zdeno Chara, Bubba Berenzweig, Evgeny Korolev, Jeff Brown, Ola Sandberg, Jeff Dessner, Chris Phillips, Antti-Jussi Niemi, Francois Hardy, Jesse Boulerice, Dan Focht, Per-Anton Lundstrom, Richard Lintner, Pavel Skrbek, Michal Rozsival, Andrei Zyuzin, Jake Deadmarsh, Mario Larocque, Jason Robinson, Nikolai Ignatov, Pavel Kubina, Marek Posmyk, Mike Lankshear, Brandon Sugden, Dmitri Yakushin, Chris Bogas, Zenith Komarniski, Clint Cabana, Sergei Zimakov.

Those are the 72 defensemen who were drafted prior to Kaberle in the 1996 draft. Kaberle went 204th overall that year, 203 spots after Chris Phillips went first overall to the Ottawa Senators.

Just thought you needed to know that.

DEVIL OF A TIME: Between Kaberle and Bryan McCabe alone, the Maple Leafs have 11 goals from their blueline. At the other end of the spectrum are the New Jersey Devils, who have just one goal, coming from Bryan Rafalski, from their entire defense corps this season.

THE OTHER SIDE: The Metallurg team that owned Evgeni Malkin's rights must be casting an envious eye toward the Seibu Lions baseball team in Japan. Metallurg loses its best player under questionable circumstances and has $200,000 to show for it. The Lions' meanwhile, get $51.1 million from the Boston Red Sox just to have the right to negotiate with star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.