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Can ex-Leaf Tomas Kaberle recapture his game in Montreal—and go out in style?

In case you missed some recent posts, here are links to recent columns on young Matt Frattin and how road trips and back-to-back games were even tougher in the "good old days"....


I know Tomas Kaberle is no longer a Leaf and for some, that means we shouldn’t waste much breath—or space—talking about him.  But those who follow this site know that I’ve long had a fondness (if often while I was agitated with him as in….”shoot….shoot….!”) for the veteran defenseman.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t like the way things with Kaberle were handled in the Wilson-Burke years, but I won’t go over that familiar ground again.  I’ve commented on it and the reasons for my perspective many times.  I'll simply say that he stayed on the high road during his years in Toronto and did his best.  And at his best, he brought a beautiful style of hockey to Leaf world—an ability to skate nicely away from trouble, headman the puck like few others and helping to make his long-time partner, Bryan McCabe, an even better defenseman than he had ever been before, or has been since.

Tomas was far from perfect- as his lack of physical play in front of his own goal (and more recently, his diminished offensive production) well attest.  But he was all class, in my mind, in a Leaf uniform and wanted to stay and retire a Maple Leaf, it seemed.  That will not happen now, and while I sense that most Leaf fans don’t miss him, I continue to wish him well, though I, too, have seen the deterioration in his game.

I don’t know if he has slowed down, lost confidence, or what the issue really is.  Watching him in Boston, he looked uncomfortable, tentative, all the way through an otherwise remarkable and highly successful run for the Beantowners in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  By in game 7 of the finals in Vancouver, he played less than 10 minutes—a 6th defenseman relegated to the safest minutes Claude Julien could possibly find for him.  He never set foot on the ice at key times late in a game, or when the Bruins were killing a penalty.

So it was no surprise that the Bruins let him walk this past summer.  What was a shock was that the Hurricanes basically replicated his Leaf contract (which, in truth, was a great signing by John Ferguson Jr. at the time, locking him up) of many years ago.  But for the Hurricanes to pay him more than 4 million a season for many years seemed like madness to me.  Before he signed, I had opined here that Kabby may get a million a year, maybe two, but that would be it.  Jim Rutherford paid way more than he needed to—and then quickly soured on Kabby this season.

That Montreal has picked him up (and that contract) sounds awful on the surface, and no doubt speaks to the desperation felt in Hab land these days around a team that is paying a one-time “star” (Gomez)  more than 7 million dollars a season, seemingly forever, while he produces like a fourth-line player.

But my hope is that Kaberle will find his old stride (and his confidence) in Montreal.  It’s a great hockey city, obviously.  He will be under a microscope again, but I well recall that he played some of his nicest hockey in blue and white in Montreal.  Some guys just like certain buildings, a certain special hockey environment, and he may thrive there.  We’ll see.

If he’s done, well, I guess he’s done.  But I find it hard to believe that he could lose all his skills at the age of, what, 33?  His numbers don't impress this season:  9 assists in 29 games with the 'Canes and a minus 12.  But if one is looking for a silver lining (and perhaps Montreal scouts were, while watching him recently) Kabby did pick up two assists in each of the last two games he played for Carolina.

I’m not sure how you all feel, but here’s hoping he has a soft landing in Montreal.  Unlike so many athletes nowadays, he never complained about his teammates, or that he needed a better contract or wanted to play with a winner somewhere else.  He just quietly went about his business, without blaming anybody else for the Leafs’ lack of success.

There were many years he was one of the team’s best performers, and could easily have done any of those things.

But that wasn't Kaberle.  In many ways he was a model Leaf, though a flawed one on the ice.  But there isn’t a mistake-free player (or coach, or manager, or fan) in this market, and I’m not sure there ever has been.

Good luck Tomas.


  1. His years with McCabe, a classic hitter/skater combo, are fond memories for me. I don't think he ever played quite the same after that Janssen hit into the boards. Still, I always like to see him play.

  2. I really *kind of* hope he finishes gracefully in Montreal, so long as it's not against us. Leafs first, beloved players no longer with the Leafs distant second.
    Was talking with GoddTill about him and he reminded me that we criticize players who simply exercise the rights they fairly negotiated when it comes to standing firm on NTC's and NMC's, which made me think of all the players who signed a great contract at a bad time that ended up being an anvil around their necks. I think THAT would be an interesting post series, Michael- the last contract in a player's life that they take with them to an ignominious end of their career.
    Re: Kaberle, here's a quote Godd came up with, and the Habs still traded for him:

    "He hasn't played up to what we hoped he would have played," Rutherford said. "He came into camp and didn't prepare himself properly. He came in like the Boston Bruins did after winning the Stanley Cup and enjoyed his summer, and he hasn't caught up."

    … "He may very well get lost in the shuffle in here. I don't know where it goes from there. I know there are some teams that are interested in him, and they aren't quite sure that they want to take on all the money and that becomes somewhat complicated. He got off to a slow start by his own doing and now he has to figure out a way to get out of it or he won't be playing with the Hurricanes long."

  3. Yes, for sure some fond memories, he was part of the team that made me bleed blue and white!

    And about his time in Boston, I can't even imagine the pressure he faced, especially for shy Kabs, coming into a contending team like boston. The poor guy hadn't been to the playoffs in how long...

    Hopefully he succeeds in MTL, it will be great talking to Habs fans, saying it took a Leaf star to bring the habs back to respectability...

  4. Gerund O'- you may well be right about the Janssen hit....

    KidK- I'll think on your suggestion, thanks!

    Bester30- I know he struggled the last couple of seasons at times in Toronto, but the trade was obviously tough on him. He hasn't looked like his old self since, though I'm hoping he will feel comfortable in Montreal.

  5. I personally think Kabs really liked it in Toronto, he felt at home here and maybe that familiarity is gone, which is hurting him. That, and maybe not being a rockstar in Carolina like he was here could have affected his enthusiasm. Sometimes guys go through ruts, its only been 3/4 of a season since the trade, he's got lots of time to right the ship.