Friday, January 27, 2012
Player Spotlight: How Long of a Stay for Tomas Kaberle?
When Montreal Canadiens General Manager Pierre Gauthier sent Jaroslav Spacek to the Carolina Hurricanes in return for Tomas Kaberle, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that he had received the best player in the trade. Though a good teammate, Spacek, at age 37, had little to no trade value, though the Canes may be able to ship him off as a rental for a mid-late pick by the trade deadline. Kaberle, on the other hand, was traded away from Toronto last February and earned the Leafs a top prospect in Joe Colbourne, along with 1st and 2nd round draft picks. Since then he has added a Stanley Cup to his resume, and at age 33, his 13 points in 20 games in Montreal would average out to 53 over an 82-game season.
Sounds great, right? Then how exactly was Gauthier able to pull off this miraculous theft? Let's start with his stops in Boston and Carolina. Yes, he won a Cup with the Bruins, but the team was far from happy with his performance. With just 9 points in 24 regular season games, and 11 in 25 in the post-season, this is hardly the output the B's wanted from an offensive blueliner. The problem with Kaberle is his ineptitude in his own end, unable to be trusted at 5-on-5 without a defensive stalwart beside him. So if he isn't putting up points, his value to a team is hugely diminished. After signing a UFA deal with Carolina, he scored 9 points and had a -12 rating in 29 games, leading to his trade to Montreal. During the press conference about the trade, when discussing signing Kaberle to a 3-year deal, 'Canes General Manager Jim Rutherford went as far as to say, "I should have known better."
Speaking of that contract, it is of course the main reason Kaberle was available so cheaply. Kaberle is due $4.25M per season for another 2 years beyond this one, a huge cap hit for a bottom pairing powerplay specialist who has failed to lift Montreal's powerplay out of the league's basement. Hindsight may be 20/20, but for far less money, the Habs might as well have retained Marc-Andre Bergeron in a similar capacity. This very summer, powerplay d-men who will make less than Kaberle who will be UFAs include: Kurtis Foster, Sheldon Souray, Jason Garrison, and Sami Salo. Are they all 50-point guys at this stage of their career? Maybe not. But the question is, what do the Canadiens need out of this roster slot moving forward? Will Kaberle have only passed through Montreal for a brief stint during his newly-become journeyman career?
I didn't like the trade when it was announced. It severely handicapped the team's payroll, knowing that Carey Price and P.K. Subban need considerable raises this summer, and Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais are due for the same the year after. After having dealt Mike Cammalleri to Calgary, the team has regained a little breathing room, but the question remains as to whether or not the money is being spent in the right place. To me, the ideal situation was that Kaberle would produce (as he has), and that Andrei Markov would return to the line-up in early February - a line the team fed us back in December/early January. Then, once Markov proved he was on his game, Kaberle could be shipped to a desperate club before the deadline for a similar little-to-no return for which he was acquired.
Obviously, that hasn't happened. Kaberle has produced offensively (and even has a positive +/- rating), but is near invisible in most aspects of the game, while the Canadiens continue to show few signs of being able to challenge for a playoff spot (the crushing win over Detroit aside). To limit his minutes, along with those of a slowing Hal Gill, the team has opted to quite regularly dress 7 d-men. The bigger disaster, though, is Markov, who ominously has yet to start skating again following his "minor clean-up" surgery early in December. There are legitimate questions at this point as to whether Markov will ever return, or how hampered his play may be if and/or when he does.
So what is the answer? If Markov doesn't return by the trade deadline, it is perhaps likely that Kaberle remains a Canadien into the summer months. I'm not a fan of his, but with the poor or inconsistent play of P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber, the team needs someone with offensive vision at the point. However, the tradability of his contract at any given point is a question. It's not quite a Scott Gomez contract - it will be possible at times to find takers. But not always, which makes me feel that if there is some interest in Kaberle's services between now and the deadline, the team should jump on the window of opportunity. On a team filled with big, tough, shutdown blueliners, Kaberle is still actually a pretty good fit. On a team with P.K. Subban, Raphael Diaz, Yannick Weber, and Andrei Markov (all of whom I would rather have than Kaberle for reasons of cost, potential, or ability), he will eventually find himself as the odd man out.