Early in November, the New York Rangers were hurting–literally–on defense. Both Dan Boyle and Ryan McDonagh were injured and out of commission, John Moore was suspended for five games, and Kevin Klein was hurting from a shot to the foot. Given that state of affairs, it’s not surprising that they would look for some blue line help. And while they promoted some young players to fill the gaps, but it didn’t look like either Mike Kostka, Dylan McIlrath or Conor Allen were quite ready for the bright lights of Broadway. The three youngsters combined for a total of one point and an even plus/minus rating in their 12 man-games of NHL playing time. So, at least in one sense, it’s not surprising that the Rangers would look for help from an unsigned defenseman with NHL experience. Enter Tomas Kaberle.
But was Kaberle even the best option available? It seems hard to believe that the only possible option for the Rangers was a player who hadn’t played more than a handful of NHL games since the 2011-12 season. No doubt, Kaberle has had a great run in the league. He currently sits at 984 games played, with 87 goals and 476 assists for a total of 563 points (currently 45th all-time points among defensemen, though potential teammate Dan Boyle is right behind at 561). However, there is nothing in his recent history to suggest that he is ready to jump back into the NHL. The Rangers had given him a PTO with their AHL affiliate Hartford Wolf Pack, which was just terminated. In two games with Hartford, Kaberle registered a pair of assists and a -3 plus/minus. Was it enough to earn him a contract with the Rangers? Newsday’s Steve Zipay now indicates that it won’t happen, and that’s a good thing. Giving Kaberle an NHL deal would have put the Rangers back to the maximum of 50 contracts (which could have had a deeper impact at the trade deadline), but the whole affair was puzzling for other reasons as well.
The defensive corps is no longer nearly as depleted. Dan Boyle is playing again, John Moore has served his five-game suspension, and Kevin Klein’s foot did not cause him to miss any time. Only Ryan McDonagh is still injured–and Matt Hunwick has played his way onto a consistent third-pair slot with some time on the power play thrown in for good measure. Simply put, there was no top-six space for Kaberle in the Rangers’ current configuration. And that’s without Ryan McDonagh, who will likely be back sometime around Thanksgiving. So, why would the Rangers even consider giving up their remaining contract slot and cap space on what would have amounted to a number-eight defenseman? Did the Rangers feel so unsure about their defensive prospects that they would consider mortgaging their trade deadline wiggle room for a marginally NHL-ready safety net?
While there have been no real rumors so far, one way the Kaberle situation makes sense is if Glen Sather is pursuing a trade involving one of the other defensemen on the roster. In this case, the need to shore up the defense corps would be very real, depending on who would be moved. Another alternative is that this was simply a major overreaction to a freak string of injuries. Given that the Rangers’ management team has been around the block once or twice, it seems unlikely they would have such a knee-jerk reaction. No, the pace of Kaberle’s tryout process seemed much more calculated than one would expect if panic were truly setting in at MSG. That leaves us with the unhappy prospect that one (or more) of the Rangers blueliners could be dealt at some point this season. Even though Kaberle didn’t work out for the Rangers, we may be just scratching the surface of this particular storyline. Stay tuned.
Kevin has been covering the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers for The Hockey Writers since the 2013-14 season. Before that, he has written about, played, and coached hockey at all levels. He grew up a Rangers fan in the Southern Tier of New York State, but now lives in the Atlanta area with his wife and two sons. You can reach him on Twitter as @kmizTHW , or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).