A couple of indications that Montreal Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier got fleeced, at least in the eyes of the public, when he dealt Jaroslav Spacek to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Tomas Kaberle:
• Spacek hasn’t played a game in three weeks and most people still think the Hurricanes won the deal.
• When asked about the Kaberle contract (signed last summer) after the trade was made, Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford said, “I should have known better.”
Ouch. Don’t be surprised if Gauthier pulls Rutherford aside at the next GM meetings and asks him to maybe not be so, you know, honest.
That the Hurricanes were so eager to rid themselves of Kaberle’s three-year, $12.75 million deal so soon after signing it should have raised a few red flags for Gauthier, but apparently it didn’t. In Spacek, the Hurricanes acquire a dependable, but injury-prone defenseman who makes about $400,000 less than Kaberle, but most importantly has an expiring contract. For the Hurricanes, this deal was about addition by subtraction and getting out from under a contract that was looking like a millstone, nothing else. And they were willing to acquire a 37-year-old player in exchange for a 33-year-old one to do it.
The fact is Kaberle was once a terrific puck-moving defenseman. He has never been comfortable defending and is not real big on the physical side of the game, but during his peak years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, there weren’t many defensemen in the league who had more poise with the puck or could make a better first pass out of the zone than Kaberle. And even though he was never the prototypical booming shot from the point on the power play – in fact, he used to drive fans in Toronto to distraction with his proclivity for not shooting – he made the man advantage more dangerous with his smarts and puck movement.
Those days seem so, so long ago, however. Kaberle is a shell of his former self – not literally, since one of the criticisms against him is that he is a tad out of shape – and hasn’t been that difference-making defenseman for a couple of years now. His tenure in Boston was pockmarked with struggles and his short time in Raleigh has been a disaster.
The offense-challenged Canadiens obviously feel Kaberle has more to give and, put in the right situation, will be able to recapture some of the success he had before. But Bob Gainey thought the same thing about Scott Gomez and we all know how that turned out.
This deal will prompt much scratching of heads from Canadiens fans. Gauthier had better hope they don’t go from scratching their heads now to wanting to pull their hair out after they watch Kaberle play a few games.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.