Habs Acquire Tomas Kaberle From Canes for Spacek

Three to five years ago, the acquisition of Tomas Kaberle would have likely been a positive subject for the Montreal Canadiens. Three years ago, Kaberle was a competent offensive defenseman who was a force for the Leafs' blueline, especially on the powerplay. He was a good passer, puck distributor and quarterback, and a player who's value and eventual trade was hotly contested, and a consistent subject of discussion in Toronto and around the league.

But three years is a long time. And Tomas Kaberle is not exactly the defenseman he used to be. At some point during the 2010-11 season, Kaberle's play started to decline with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was headed to free agency over the summer, so the Leafs were actively looking to trade him after Kaberle held out and used his no-trade clause in previous attempts. He was finally shipped to Boston in a huge deal that would land the leafs Joe Colborne and one of the first round picks they lost in the Kessel trade, but the move wasn't all that positive for the Bruins. Sure, Boston would go on to win the cup, but it was in large part in spite of Kaberle's presense, as the Czech defenseman would prove to be more or less useless in in the 50 games he would play for the Bruins (regular season and playoffs).

Needless to say, the Bruins would let him hit free agency, and Kaberle would end up landing in Carolina, with a brand new 3-year deal that would pay him an average $4.25 million a season. A pretty expensive deal, to say the least, and an odd one, considering the consensus was that Kaberle didn't exactly fit on a the team the Canes had. Consensus would turn into reality over the first third of the season, as both Kaberle and the Canes have had an absolutely horrid season, one that has led to the firing of coach Paul Maurice in favor of former Habs assistant coach Kirk Muller.

Not two weeks after Muller's hiring, Kaberle finds himself out the door and heading north, to join the team that maybe wanted him most all that time ago in Montreal. The cost: a player that Muller will certainly be very familiar with and Kaberle's Czech countryman, Jaroslav Spacek.

The deal is interesting (that's one word for it) for several reasons. For starters, I'm sure that Jim Rutherford doesn't need Kirk Muller's approval for any trade, but you have to wonder whether Muller had a little say in the trade. It's not a coincidence that the Canadiens' powerplay has gone from propping the team up in previous years to being the bane of their existence since Muller's departure. And it's not a coincidence that the first player the Hurricanes get rid of upon Muller's arrival is the guy who used to be the powerplay specialist. Don't get me wrong, Kaberle will no doubt improve the Habs' powerplay, even if it's just a little bit. After all, the guy has scored 60% of his assists on the man advantage since the lockout, and he'll certainly be an improvement as a puck distribution on the point. But it just adds a little insult to injury when you consider the Muller aspect of it all.

The other big problem here is the contract situation. No one here will is going to try and deny that between Kaberle and Spacek, Kaberle is by far the better overall player. While Spacek has played well for the Canadiens (when he's not injured anyway), especially considering the absence of Roman Hamrlik this season, the simple truth is that he's nearing his forties, and Habs fans have wanted him and his bloated contract gone for a while.

Problem is, Pierre Gauthier took a bloated contract that was expiring, and replaced it by an even more bloated contract with two extra years tacked on the end. We were having trouble coming up with how the Canadiens would be able to sign Carey Price and P.K. Subban this summer, WITH the extra money freed up by Spacek. Now, the team has to figure out how to sign their two biggest players with an extra four million dollars on the books that they don't have to spend.

The only way this move makes sense in the long run is if the team knows something about Andrei Markov that we don't, and if that's the case, there are bigger questions we should be asking, considering the team has spent the last two weeks trying to convince us that Andrei Markov's knee recovery is going as well as expected. If Kaberle, a player who has often been compared to Markov, has been brought in to replace him, then we have some big problems.

Again, despite his decline, I actually don't mind seeing Kaberle on this team. I think he's going to thrive here, at least more than he did in Boston and Carolina, and even his final days on a Toronto team that had clearly moved on from him. He's a good fit for the Canadiens and will actually help the powerplay. The problem is that the Canadiens don't have any sort of room for him. 

This is a clear Hail Mary from a general manager at his wit's end. The team that Pierre Gauthier has constructed is falling to pieces, and he knows that he's the one that's going to have to answer for what's happening at some point or another. The defense has especially been in shambles. But the problem is that it's been in shambles since October, and it's arguable that the Canadiens' season is beyond saying at this point. While there really is no loss in terms of assets, outside of money, you have to wonder why Gauthier felt the need to make this move right now.

Kaberle isn't going to inspire Michael Cammalleri and Brian Gionta to score goals, even if he might be able to get pucks to them a little easier. He's not going to single-handedly save the team's powerplay, even if he might make it a little better, because the problems are well beyond what he brings to the table. It's not going to help the Habs' shootout, and it's not going to help them play better in the dying minutes of the game, where they just happen to blow the most of their leads.

In many ways, the acquisition of Tomas Kaberle is a lateral move, on the ice. In other ways, it's a move that's going to cripple the Montreal Canadiens and their salary cap for the next two years. Overall, this is exactly what I'd expect from a general manager who leaves professional scouting to his disgraced, fired assistant coaches.

Was Perry Pearn, the man fired and then secretly rehired as a scout the person who told Gauthier this would be a good move? Why is Kaberle not good enough for the Blue Jackets, but good enough for the Habs? Does Pierre Gauthier not listen to ? How exactly will this help the powerplay and turn the Canadiens' season around? The deal raises more questions than it answers, just as it raises my blood pressure.

I'm tired of bitching about the GM. I'm tired of being flabbergasted by ridiculous, illogical deals that come years after people were clamoring them. I'm tired of moves that are made not to improve the team, but to save jobs and put up false appearances. I'm tired of the state of the Montreal Canadiens, and explaining how badly this team needs to change. This trade just perfectly represents everything that's wrong with the Montreal Canadiens, and I've had just about enough of it.


Negativety aside (for now), the acquisition of Kaberle does raise a few questions for the Canaidiens. The teams sent Frederick St-Denis down to the Bulldogs (despite the fact that he scored a goal last night) to make room for Kaberle, and Yannick Weber will likely continue to watch from the press box, as the organization has lost confidence in his defensive ability for the fifth or six time now -- but who's keeping count?

The problem that's due to arise is when Chris Campoli is ready to return to the line-up next week. Campoli, acquired in September after injuries on the blue line began to pile up, hasn't played since the first game of the season, on the shelf with a leg injury. He's about ready to come back, which once again means the Canadiens will have a surplus of defensemen.

The easy choice to make here would be to bench Raphael Diaz, a player with similar size and offensive abilities. Problem is, Diaz has actually played well in many games, and has been playing some big minutes for the Canadiens. With Kaberle in the line-up, those minutes will no doubt drop, but it should still be said that the Swiss defenseman also has the coveted right-handed shot that every team usually looks for on the blueline. This leads me to believe that Jacques Martin might decide to make the bonehead move and bench Alexei Emelin, who has gone from a slow start to a complete revelation for the Canadiens, leading the team with 79 hits and putting up some good minutes with solid defensive hockey. He's been one of the few bright spots for the team this season, so there has to be a little worry that the coaching staff will snuff that flame before it really begins to blaze.

Whatever happens, Kaberle will likely make his debut in bleu, blanc rooge tomorrow afternoon against the New Jersey Devils. Until then, my palm will be firmly planted on my face, in order to signal my dissaproval with this mess of a situation that we call the Montreal Canadiens.


demez's picture

Well played Pearn, well played.

Phil T's picture

Habs have no choice in buying out / burying Gomez in the minors now if they want any chance at re-signing Price, Subban and Gorges this summer.

George Prax's picture

I just thought of this... What a douchebag move by Gauthier to trade Spacek to a crappy team on what could be the final year of his career...

demez's picture

Not to mention it seemed like he really loved it here, I'm sure his teammates will miss him as he supposedly used to pick up the tab a lot of the times. I obviously wanted him gone from the team but not like this, not for a guy that costs more with more time on his contract. Both are defensive liabilities and unless he plays like he did 4 years ago, we lost big time.

Not to mention how Rutherford spoke about the guy. He couldn't handle playing in Boston or Carolina but he's going to be able to play under the Montreal scrutiny?

At this point Gauthier and Martin are just bored and want to fuck with us just to see how much they can get away with until upper management grows a pair.

George Prax's picture

I don't think Kaberle's poor play had anything to do with scrutiny, the dude played in Toronto, and if anything it's worse there. It's more to do with a lack of a fit and just simply dropping off in terms of how good of a player he is. That's the thing though, he can still be a good player and a good fit here, it just doesn't make sense considering the circumstances.

David Collins's picture

I actually don't mind this trade. We can fit the extra cap hit, and with just a little bit of work from the GM and the possibility of the Cap going up, I think we'll be alright as far as re-signing Price and Subban. I'm looking forward to see how Kabby looks against the Devils PK assuming he plays. I'm going to wait until after his first shift at the very least to pass judgement on him as a player in a Habs uniform, though. If he plays like he did in Toronto, it'll be highway robbery.

George Prax's picture

The only reason they have cap space now is because of Markov. Next year they have to sign Kostitsyn, Eller, Gorges, Emelin, Diaz, and either resign or replace Moen, Darche, Nokelainen, Campoli and GIll. Not to mention Price, who should get at least 5 million a year, and Subban, who won't get crazy money but will look to cash in as well. That's half the team, with only 20 million available to resign them and make improvements that are desperately needed. Unless they're expecting Markov to retire, this is a terrible long-term deal. And unless we witness a Christmas miracle, Kaberle won't play like he did in his prime in Toronto.

David Collins's picture

Right, and I don't really expect him to play like he did in Toronto, but I'm not going to call him terrible pick-up before I see him in a Habs sweater. Gauthier is pulling off some questionable moves, but I honestly do not think he would do this if he didn't know what he was doing and how to get out of it if something goes wrong. I honestly don't think we need to worry about it too much. Maybe we have another deal lined up as cap relief? And hey, theres always Hamilton Tongue

George Prax's picture

I think you're giving too much credit to Gauthier. He has a history of terrible moves and you can feel it every time he makes a move or does an interview, he only makes moves for the sake of making moves, like to say, "hey guys I did something, now shut up". Plus this team's scouting department is notoriously terrible. Gomez? It was Gauthier's job to tell Gainey not to trade for him.

David Collins's picture

Fair enough, you bring up a good point. I guess we'll have to wait and see, and hope for the best. If he plays as well as he's shown he can in the past, then it's fantastic. If not, then yeah, I'm with you on this one.

Marco Perruzza's picture

Being a long suffering Leaf fan I watched quite a bit of Kaberle over the years, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that he was my least favourite Leaf of all time. A complete waste in his own zone and an overrated offensive defenseman, Tomas was a product of the media hype in Toronto. Considering his failures outside of Toronto it's obvious that he is not the player the media and fanbase built him up to be. Yes, Kaberle may make some nice passes on the power play, but he'll also drive you crazy with his unwillingness to shoot the puck. Kaberle's inability to shoot allows the opposition to focus on other players as he is not a threat to score. Trust me you'll soon realize in Montreal how utterly frustrating he is. Also, as seen on John Tavares' goal last night, Kaberle will not clear the front of the net and is completely disinterested in his own zone. He constantly gets outmuscled and has no intensity in his game.

As always George your article was well written, but all I can say is that the day Kaberle was traded to Boston was the best day I had as a Leafs fan since the lockout. This is another terrible move by Gauthier and in my opinion Spacek is the better of the two players in this deal.

George Prax's picture

I realized how frustrating it is before he even took the ice. We disagreed on Cole (although I think I was proven right there Wink), but we completely agree here. He's provided a boost to the powerplay but it's ridiculous that they have to pay him $4.25M for three years for that when they've been so unwilling to give money to powerplay specialists for so long now. I still think Kaberle's better than Spacek but still a bad trade.