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The Kaberle Trade: A case of Toronto and hubris

December 10, 2011

As a Leaf. Perhaps this is how we should always remember the Kladno blueliner.

For a man who professed his great love for Toronto, for stability, Tomas Kaberle is now on his fourth NHL team in the 2011 calendar year. Who could have thought it? But earlier this week, Kaberle found himself shipped out of Raleigh and up to Montreal (or rather, NJ, at least initially) in exchange for fellow Czech defenseman Jaroslav Spacek. Czech-for-Czech, how’d this trade break down? As a dumb one. But mostly because of the 3 year/$12.75 million price-tag attached to Kaberle. The deal that GM Rutherford signed Kaberle to this summer was considered egregious at the time, but even more so after his lackluster, often lackadaisical play, thus far with the Canes. It’s a shame, because just 365 days ago, Kaberle was considered a player that would automatically make any NHL a better one. Now he’s a potential liability.

But really, why did Montreal make this move? The Hurricanes had the benefit of clearing up salary and effectively dumping a bad contract, only five months in. But what about the Canadiens?

Let’s think. The two ideas that immediately pop to mind are these: Kaberle is pretty much a low-hassle, injury free guy. Yes, he showed up to camp in September in foul shape, we now know. But he’s never been ultra-fit. And he’s made do just fine. Montreal has struggled to keep its blueline healthy the last three years. One must think Kaberle’s health was appealing. Second, he doesn’t might the big-market limelight of Canadian cities. Sure, he sounded like a wilted flower in Toronto with the trade deadline hub-bub for years, but he dealt with it. The Canadiens have to see the benefit to this.

But below the surface, there are two other reasons, perhaps incorrect ones, for the Canadiens making this trade happen. First off, well, the bulk of Kaberle’s body of work has come from his time in Toronto, where he was a monster from the point, scoring points left and right and their powerplay hum. That said, Toronto has been in the doldrums for years. There is a reason Kaberle was often the most talked-of player in T-dot: he was the only one to talk of, really. With Kessel and Schenn blossoming, Phaneuf standing tall, and youngins’ like Gardiner and Reimer pulling their weight, it is different now. But great players on non-playoff teams always get more attention. Perhaps Montreal was swayed by the man they once faced six times a year, in his better, former self.

Second, and this is a barbed sort of point, but, Montreal could have a case of hubris. Being the hockey capital, having what could be the best arena, best staff, best everything, there’s probably a sense they can right any wrong. Why would you take Scott Gomez? Why would you pay Erik Cole that much? Hubris, a sense of arrogance, superiority, whatever you want to call it. The Habs can afford to take risks. Probably is, they’ll be scraping closer to the cap ceiling sooner rather than later with little to show for it. If they can afford Kaberle, well, why not?

As with any trade, judgment should be withheld for a period, until we see how Kaberle and Spacek play. But I would go so far as to say the trade the Canadiens made was one only they would make.


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