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Kaberle’s legacy hanging by a thread

A few weeks ago I posted that former Leaf Tomas Kaberle’s (click to see the earlier column) playing legacy would largely depend on how he performed in the playoffs this spring, and in any subsequent opportunities he might have to play when it really matters.

Interestingly, Mirtle posted a piece in the Globe after Game 3 of the Montreal series about how Kabby’s own General Manager went public with the organization’s disappointment in Kaberle’s play in the playoffs against Montreal.  In short, Peter Chiarelli said the organization had expected more—and better.

Setting aside the usual debate about “who won the trade” (Colborne and a pending first-rounder to the Leafs), as someone who has liked Kaberle, I see this moment in his career as a litmus test for Tomas, if not the defining time in his career—fair or not.

Leaf fans saw everything that Kaberle had in his Toronto years, and some, like myself, respected his commitment to the organization and the way he played the game.

That said, we all saw the good—and bad—that Tomas brought to the rink most nights.  He could often skate the puck out of trouble. He could lug the puck out of his zone and make that great outlet pass.  (We saw an example of his elite passing skill on Boston’s first goal against the Habs in Game 4, as he sent Ryder on his way to beat Price.  It was a sweet pass few guys can make.)

But we also noticed (how could we not…) the lack of physical play, his seemingly steadfast refusal to shoot, his lack of power-play prowess when that was supposed to be one of his attributes, his propensity for making mistakes.  (That was also on display late in Game 4, when he lost the board along the boards in the neutral zone and Montreal came very close to scoring a late winning goal which could have all but ended Boston’s season.)

When Kaberle was (finally) dealt to Boston, I’m sure we all wondered if he would be able to make a difference on a good team, at this somewhat advanced stage of his career.

The answer so far has been a resounding no.

The thing is, the Bruins are getting exactly what we saw here for years, and in the current fast-paced world of playoff hockey, Kaberle just isn’t measuring up—at least not so far.

As I’ve written before, I don’t like to make hasty judgments in the playoffs after one or two games.  Things can change—for teams, and for individuals—in a hurry.  Look at the Vancouver-Chicago Chicaho series.  And LA coughing up a 4-0 lead in Game 3, essentially turning that series around.  People were tweeting a mile a minute about the Shawks blowing it again this year.

It’s best not to make assessments too soon.

But the reality is that Kaberle is now playing third-pair minutes.  That’s shocking.  (Leaf fans recall that he routinely played 30 minutes a night in the Quinn playoff years, alongside McCabe- and much more in those classic overtime games.) Importantly, he is not really helping the Bruins as much as some might have expected, or in the way that the organization wanted.  And as I mentioned above, he still makes those mistakes you just don’t expect from a 12-year veteran.

We have to keep in mind that the game has changed since he was last in the playoffs.  That was in the spring of 2004, a full seven years ago.  Luke Schenn was probably a freshman in high school.

While playoff hockey is still very tight-checking, the game is faster than it was in the “old” clutch and grab pre-lockout days.  Kaberle was never a physical presence, and if you aren’t effective on the power-play, and you can’t handle the pace or physicality of playoff hockey, experience isn’t enough to compensate, it seems.

As I mentioned in that earlier column, Kaberle’s legacy largely hinges on showing he can still play on a good team, with good players, against elite opposition.

As of this moment in the playoffs, Kaberle will not only have a hard time getting that one last free-agent contract, more importantly, how people will remember him might be impacted by what they are seeing right now.

That will be a shame, because Kaberle was an honorable player who did a lot of good things with the Leafs, and he’s not an old guy.  But the Bruins are perhaps fortunate to be tied in this series.  Depending on how things go for them from here, I wouldn’t be shocked if Kaberle was a healthy scratch.

Not the legacy he—or I—was dreaming of.

1 comment:

  1. I dont know what Boston was expecting cause there getting the same Kaberle that was here, soft on the puck, cant shoot (deer in headlights), amazing passer but i heard someone say Boston turned Kabs into MA Beregeron LOL perfect statement.