Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was a busy man at the trade deadline. After staying quiet last season, Chiarelli shuffled a number of bodies around this year in an attempt to get his team playoff-ready. No splash for the Bruins was bigger than Tomas Kaberle, but the rental defenseman sure was pricey.
Kaberle, 33, came over from Toronto in exchange for prospect Joe Colborne, a first round pick in 2011, and a conditional second round pick in 2012.
While the Bruins find themselves comfortably awaiting the Eastern Conference Finals, their achievements thus far have been despite Kaberle – not because of him – which has to be a concern for the Bruins’ hopes of winning a Stanley Cup.
Kaberle has just one goal in 35 games (regular season and playoffs) since his arrival. The Boston powerplay unit, an area of the game where Kaberle was expected to contribute the most, is 9-for-103 over that same time period (8.7 percent). It’s been an embarassing 5.4 percent in the playoffs.
Scoresheets and stats aside, Kaberle has been invisible on his best nights and a liability on his worst.
The lackluster performance will certainly hurt Kaberle’s wallet when he looks for a new contract as a free agent on July 1, but what should coach Claude Julien and the Bruins do with him in the meantime?
Julien admitted disappointment with the $4.25m defenseman after the Bruins first round series against Montreal, but on Wednesday he had positive words to say about Kaberle’s play in the second round.
“I know at one point we had expected a little more out of him, and we were clear with that,” Julien said. “I think since that time, he’s certainly been a pretty good player for us these last few games against Philly. We’ve seen him move the puck extremely well and I think he’s been a better player.”
Julien’s statement seems encouraging on the surface, but it can’t hide the fact that Kaberle’s playing time slipped to 13:20 and 13:15 in Games 3 and 4 of the series. If the coach was happy with Kaberle he would’ve rewarded him with ice time, not buried the high-priced veteran at the end of the bench.
Fortunately for the Bruins, Adam McQuaid (neck strain) looks set to return to the lineup for Game 1 on Saturday and rookie Steven Kampfer (knee) may not be far behind. Kampfer was injured while playing with Providence (AHL) and returned to practice with teammates on Tuesday.
Zdeno Chara (28:57 avg time on ice in playoffs) has carried the load for the Bruins thus far, but they’ll need puck-moving defensemen like Kaberle to step up against the tight 1-3-1 neutral zone scheme the Lightning employ.
If Kaberle and the Boston powerplay continue to struggle in the Conference Finals, Julien will be searching desperately for answers. Could he give Kampfer, a deft puck-mover in his own right, the chance to seize Kaberle’s role once healthy?
If you were Claude Julien, how would you handle Tomas Kaberle?
#3 Boston Bruins vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning (all times Eastern)
Game 1: Saturday, May 14, 2011 at Boston – 8 p.m. (TV: VERSUS, CBC, RDS)
Game 2: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at Boston – 8 p.m. (VERSUS, TSN, RDS)
Game 3: Thursday, May 19, 2011 at Tampa Bay – 8 p.m. (VERSUS, TSN, RDS)
Game 4: Saturday, May 21, 2011 at Tampa Bay – 1:30 p.m. (NBC, TSN, RDS)
*Game 5: Monday, May 23, 2011 at Boston – 8 p.m. (VERSUS, CBC, RDS)
*Game 6: Wed., May 25, 2011 at Tampa Bay – 8 p.m. (VERSUS, CBC, RDS)
*Game 7: Friday, May 27, 2011 at Boston – 8 p.m. (VERSUS, CBC, RDS)