Let's not beat around the bush here, the Tomas Kaberle signing was a gigantic misfire by Jim Rutherford. He even admitted it himself. The Hurricanes may have almost made the playoffs in 2010-11 but they were still a team that was rebuilding and had a stockpile of defensemen in their farm system, so bringing in Kaberle on a three year deal was a puzzling acquisition to say the least. I do understand that they were looking for a replacement for Joe Corvo and that they didn't know Justin Faulk would be NHL-ready at such a young age, but committing three years and $12.75 mil. to an aging offensive defenseman isn't something that a team in Carolina's position should do.
Hindsight is 20/20, but those who watched Kaberle in Boston and Toronto the last couple of seasons could have told you that his days of being a top-four defender are long gone. He was used as a third pairing defenseman/powerplay specialist with the Bruins during the playoffs last season and wasn't exactly stellar in that role. That isn't the type of player you give $4.25 mil. per year to and it didn't help that he kept Jamie McBain from playing every night.
That being said, it was thought that Kaberle would be somewhat of an upgrade on the powerplay over Corvo and that he could succeed in a protected role at even strength. That wasn't the case at all in Carolina as he struggled to stay afloat for most of the season, found himself in the press box for one game and was eventually traded to Montreal for Jaroslav Spacek. Rutherford managed to bail himself out of Kaberle's contract but just how bad was he in Carolina? His overall underlying numbers actually are not horrible but that viewpoint completely changes when you add some context to the situation. Follow me after the jump to see what I am talking about.
Tomas Kaberle Scoring Chances 2011-12
Average TOI: 17:43
Even strength Chance% Defense Rank: N/A
Even strength Chance Diff/60 Rank: N/A
QualComp Rank: 7/8
OZ Start%: 55.6%
Kaberle's overall data is skewed a bit because he only played 29 games with the Hurricanes, but I did look at his underlying stats a couple games before he was traded and it is hard to imagine those numbers drastically changing. At the time, Kaberle was playing softer minutes than any other defenseman. He was used in the offensive zone regularly and played most of his minutes against other team's third and fourth lines. He also didn't play much at even strength and logged most of his ice time on the powerplay. There were times when he played the fewest amount of even strength minutes among defensemen.
Scoring Chances by Season Segment
TC = total chances, SC = segment chances, Segment% = scoring chance percentage during segment, Team %= Hurricanes' scoring chance percentage during segment
Scoring Chance Segment by Line Graph
Click to enlarge
Some of you might remember that I defended Tomas Kaberle during the early part of the season and it was justified. Kaberle was not playing bad in the first 10 games but had only two points because he had no bounces going his way. His on-ice shooting percentage at even strength was around 2-3% that month, which is a pretty telling stat. My sympathy for Kaberle began to deteriorate after that, though as he fell off a cliff after a good first 10 games.
A guy who is being paid that kind of money and playing pillow soft minutes needs to at least be controlling the play if he isn't producing points and Kaberle was doing neither. His overall numbers weren't as bad as some of the team's other blue-liners but they look a lot worse when taking his usage into context. If Kaberle had more points then things would be a lot different but things obviously did not turn out that way.
The fact that Kaberle was traded despite playing so poorly on the ice and the scoresheet is nothing short of a miracle. I know that Montreal needed a puck-mover and healthy bodies on the blue-line but there had to be better options than "buying low" on Kaberle and his three-year contract. Although, something that might be funny to a lot of people is that Kaberle was traded after he had his best game of the season against the Edmonton Oilers (that should say enough right there) so maybe Pierre Gauthier only watched those two games and thought Kaberle still had something left in the tank. Maybe he thought that he was worth $4.25 mil for three years judging from that, too.
Kaberle was able to push the play forward when he was playing with better players like Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu. He was much worse away from them while the forwards still managed to be around 50% when they weren't playing with Kaberle. Shwos that he was mainly a passenger on the blue line than someone who was contributing to the play.
One positive thing about Kaberle was that he played very well with Jay Harrison early on in the season and those two actually provided a decent amount of offense. Something that might stick out is that Kaberle was much better away from Harrison than Harrison was away from Kaberle, but I think that's a product of Harrison playing tougher minutes later on in the year. The sample size for most of the blue-liners with Kaberle is too small to make any final judgements, though.