Message boards are abuzz with the news of the Maple Leafs’ former assistant captain being brought to town. Radio call-in shows are seeing their telephone lines light up like Christmas trees, and social media statuses across Habs Nation reflect various degrees of shock and disapproval.
But fans may be wise to stow away their torches and pitchforks for the time being. While the $4.25m price tag may be a little steeper than the club is comfortable with, the cold hard fact is that this team needs Tomas Kaberle right now.
Over the course of the past three seasons, the core the Canadiens’ roster has remained essentially unchanged. This is the same group that took the Boston Bruins to overtime of Game 7 last season and knocked off both the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins the year before.
The only real difference so far this year?
(The power play that is; not Perry Pearn.)
A few years ago, it was Mark Streit patrolling the point with the man advantage. After that, it was James Wisniewski providing the thunder from the blueline. Unfortunately for the Canadiens, both of these players would eventually become casualties of their own success, landing big off-season contracts in greener pastures.
What we were left with was a power play unit specifically built to accommodate Andrei Markov as its quarterback.
And it isn’t exactly going well.
As of this morning, the Habs sit 28th in the league with the man advantage…and Markov sits in the press box. The team has an abysmal record in close games and is currently clinging to the twelfth position in the Eastern Conference.
Kaberle may have had a rough go in Boston and Carolina, but it would be in everyone’s best interest to at least let the man get onto the bus before throwing him off (and under) it.
This is a player who spent his entire NHL career with a single organization. He left Toronto mid-season and joined a group of players who were quite obviously a cohesive unit before he arrived.
To go from being the clear-cut number one guy in a place like to Toronto to struggling to find a place on a championship calibre team has got to be a difficult transition to say the least.
And the cup of coffee he had in Carolina is hardly a reflection of the type of player Kaberle has proven himself to be. The team is in shambles, the coach was fired early in the season, and it seems like everything that could go wrong, has.
And yet, no one seems to be suggesting that Eric Staal’s career is over.
Looking more closely at the numbers, Kaberle has averaged 46 points per year in his NHL career. Last year, splitting time between Toronto and Boston, he registered 47; not exactly an offensive disappointment.
His defensive awareness may leave something to be desired, but no one within the organization thought were trading for Shea Weber.
The fact of the matter is that the Canadiens made the playoffs the past few seasons based on the strength of their power play. They lost a big part of that unit during the off-season and yesterday, they got a player who has been at least as good as Wisniewski and Streit have been over the past few years. (Check the stats.)
At 33 years of age, Kaberle should have at least two more productive years left in the tank, especially given the opportunity to skate with the kind of speed and skill the Canadiens have up front.
Those years may not be worth $4.25m each, but if Tomas Kaberle brings enough punch to make the difference in even a handful of games this year, it could be the difference between fighting for playoff position and fighting for an early tee-time this spring.
With cap room to spare and fan-base that grows increasingly restless by the minute, Canadiens management had its back to the wall. This is a team which has relied heavily upon its power play efficiency the past few years and is currently struggling to find any offense whatsoever.
Montreal traded away what was essentially a sixth defenceman in exchange for a proven, puck-moving defender who can provide veteran leadership and has a dozen years experience running an NHL power play.
I say we owe it to ourselves as fans to at least give Kaberle a chance. As anyone in the northeast can tell you;
They usually just flutter for a little while and then disappear into the distance, but if they can weather the storm and hang on long enough, there are few things as beautiful as a Leaf turning red.