Originally written on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 12/9/11

SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 23: Tomas Kaberle #15 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck against the Florida Panthers on January 23, 2010 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Maple Leafs 2-0. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

By Patrick Powell

On Friday morning, Pierre Gauthier took the bait that the Carolina Hurricanes had been reportedly dangling for weeks: defenseman Tomas Kaberle.

As a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Kaberle distinguished himself as one of the premier, offensive defenseman in the League. Considering the Leafs’ failed to make the playoffs since the lockout, Kaberle was the subject of trade rumors for years. The Boston Bruins paid a bounty for his services and the Czech defender hoisted the Cup for the first time in his career last June. However, most people will tell you they won in spite of him, not because of him.

Kaberle left the Leafs in second place on the club’s all time scoring list among defensemen (Borje Salming is the current leader). His primary assets are his vision and passing on the power play, as evidenced by his career stats.

Nevertheless, the deficiencies in Kaberle’s game have been his decision-making in his own end and his proclivity to making turnovers. In an interview with TSN following his retirement, former Flyers’ captain Keith Primeau discussed how one of the Flyers’ primary strategies in the 2004 Eastern Conference Semis against Kaberle’s leafs was to put the put into Kaberle’s corner and make his chase the puck. The Flyers’ strategy worked well, and other teams have challenged Kaberle early and often as well. Since the 2007-2008 season, Kaberle has had but one plus season — plus-4 last season, minus-2 with Leafs and plus-6 with Bruins. Kaberle did post a plus-8 in the Bruins’ Cup run last spring, but he averaged less than 16 minutes per game in 14 of the 25 games played.

Despite not signing a contract on July 1st his reputation and family ties to the organization was enough for GM Jim Rutherford to offer the 33-year-old a three-year deal worth $4.25 million per season. Given his defensive issues and offensive inconsistency, most NHL insiders wondered who would take a shot at him, most felt no team would take on his contract. Gauthier rolled the dice by dealing oft-injured veteran Jaroslav Spacek for the Kaberle knowing he only produced nine assists in 29 games with a poor minus-12.

Kaberle becomes the primary quarterback on the Canadiens’ power play with Andrei Markov expected to miss closer to nine weeks following this week’s surgery. The Canadiens’ power play has suffered with the absence of Markov, operating at only 11.4 percent which ranks 28th in the NHL. Without Markov the team desperately needed a left-handed shot to take his place at the point.

These Habs have struggled but are hoping they can get by with a little more offense. Adding Kaberle makes the team a bit more skilled but it could also add another liability to the lineup. Canadiens’ fans on Twitter already started the #FireGauthier hashtag which clearly summarizes their feelings on the deal.

Kaberle will need time to adjust to a new system. He may not have that time due to the impatience of the team’s faithful and panicked management.


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