Tomas Kaberle, last seen in these parts hoisting the Cup last June after frustrating fans with his penchant for coughing up pucks at inopportune times, was traded from Carolina to Montreal on Friday. Officially, the Hurricanes got veteran defenseman Jaroslav Spacek in return. In reality, Carolina got a much bigger return. Namely, they no longer have Kaberle clogging up their cap for the foreseeable future.
This is good news for the Bruins, who now get to enjoy Kaberle's largesse with the puck six times a year in Montreal. The steadily declining play of the former All-Star has a bigger impact on Montreal than just how his defensive gaffes will further weaken their injury-depleted blue line.
Kaberle is also the gift that keeps on giving to Montreal's rivals as his $4.25-million cap hit through 2014 further hampers the Canadiens' ability to improve their team in the coming years. The Habs are already burdened with a $7.357-million cap hit through 2013-14 for Scott Gomez, who has no goals in 13 games this season and is currently on injured reserve with a groin injury.
Then there's defenseman Andrei Markov, who was signed to a three-year deal this summer at a $5.75-million annual hit despite being limited to just seven games last year and 45 games in 2009-10 because of knee injuries. He's yet to play this season and just underwent yet another surgery on his knee.
Actually, when looking at those deals, you can almost see how Montreal general manager Pierre Gauthier could think that Kaberle is on a reasonable deal. Carolina counterpart Jim Rutherford knows better. After seeing Kaberle on his blue line for just 29 games, Rutherford realized what a horrible mistake he made in signing the veteran defenseman this summer.
"I should have known better," Rutherford told the Raleigh News & Observer on Friday. "Tomas is a player who has had a very good career but I should have known better in the sense of where he was in his career. He won the Stanley Cup, he had a short summer and at the start of training camp and the start of the season was not where he needed to be [physically]."
Bruins fans might recognize that refrain, as Kaberle's fitness upon his arrival in Boston also raised concerns. Having won a Cup and cashed in with a lucrative deal with Carolina, did anyone really expect him to be anything but fat and happy with the Hurricanes?
Apparently Rutherford did. He ignored Kaberle's struggles in Boston and anticipated a revival to the form he showed earlier in his career in Toronto. That was not to be. In 29 games in Carolina, Kaberle had 0-9-9 totals and was a minus-12 with 0-4-4 totals on the power play. That's eerily similar to his numbers in Boston, where he had 1-8-9 totals, including 0-3-3 on the power play, in 24 regular season games and was 0-11-11 (0-5-5 on power play) in 25 playoff games.
Kaberle was acquired in part to help spark Boston's struggling power play. Instead, the Bruins got worse on the man advantage, going 7 for 66 (10.6 percent) in the regular season after Kaberle joined the team and 10 for 88 (11.4 percent) in the playoffs. The Habs will be repeating the Bruins' mistake if they think Kaberle will help Montreal's 28th-ranked power play (11.4 percent), though he could help them get to be good a Carolina has been this year. The 'Canes are all the way up in 26th at 12.7 percent.
"He has not done as well as expected, just as the team has not done as well as expected," Rutherford said. "He has played better the last couple of weeks. But to have flexibility next year without his contract is important to us."
The News and Observer added that Rutherford would have preferred to trade Kaberle for a forward, but the GM said "there was not a deal out there that could be made for Kaberle."
No deal to be made except for the one with the only man in the NHL who still seems blissfully unaware that the league implemented a salary cap back in 2005. It was kind of a big deal, coming out of an owners' lockout that shut down the league for a full season and all. But Gauthier doesn't care about no stinkin' cap hits. He learned no lesson from predecessor Bob Gainey's taking on Gomez's crippling cap hit in a deal with the Rangers in 2009 or his own ill-advised commitment to the chronically hobbled Markov.
That may be the only negative out of this deal from a Bruins perspective. This trade may finally be the move that costs Gauthier his job, and competing with the Habs could be even more difficult with a competent GM in place in Montreal.
Rutherford is happy that's not the case now, as he admitted that shedding Kaberle's cap hit was the goal of this deal. The Hurricanes got back 37-year-old Spacek, no picture of health himself as he's currently on injured reserve and played just 12 games this season. But he's also on an expiring contract that frees up cap space after this season.
Spacek has ties to new Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller, who played with Spacek in Florida and coached him as an assistant in Montreal. But getting rid of Kaberle was far more important than whatever Carolina could get back in return. "The bottom line was moving Kaberle's contract," Rutherford told the News & Observer.
The Bruins paid a heavy price when they acquired Kaberle, giving up top prospect Joe Colborne and a first- and second-round picks, and for all his faults Kaberle did contribute to the Cup run, playing better as the postseason wore on. And the Bruins didn't compound the error by giving him the huge contract he sought.
That's now Montreal's problem, and Bruins fans wouldn't want it any other way.