May 15, 2011

As playoffs roll on, Kaberle still not a key cog for Bruins

by Jesse Connolly

Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle has failed to make the impact many expected of him in Boston. (Getty)

BOSTON-- Looking back on the days, weeks and even months leading up to general manager Peter Chiarelli's spurt of wheeling and dealing in February, the equation was so clear. Add a high-quality, puck-moving defenseman to the Bruins roster, so they said, and the Hub of Hockey would have itself a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup.

And so Chiarelli finally completed his lengthy hunt for Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle, coughing up a high-end prospect in Joe Colborne, a first-round pick and a conditional second-rounder for the blueliner's services. Fans were anxious to see instantaneous magic happen on the ice. From a glut of goals via crisp, breakout passes to a revamped, potent power play, the number of ways in which Kaberle could make the B's a better squad were endless.

When it didn't work right off the bat, we said we'd give it time. When Kaberle finished the regular season with an unspectacular line of 1-8-9 in 24 games, we told ourselves he'd rise up in the playoffs. When the Czech blueliner got off to a rocky start in round one against the Canadiens, we gave him the benefit of the doubt as it was his first taste of playoff action since the spring of 2004.

Kaberle is now 12 games into his playoff run with the Bruins, and not a single, solitary moment has transpired in which Chiarelli could turn to his fellow inhabitants of the Bruins front-office press box and shoot them the "and that is why we got this guy" look of content.

Through his first dozen postseason games in Black and Gold, the longtime Leaf has chipped in a mere three assists for a team that has scored 38 goals. He has contributed squat to a power play that is now 2-for-41 (4.9%) in the playoffs, by far the worst mark among remaining teams in the postseason.

After coming over from Toronto, Kaberle's offensive pop wasn't there, but many marveled at how the veteran d-man was considerably better in his own end than they had been led to believe. Over time, however, that opinion has changed. The playoffs are a time in which physicality gets ratcheted up a number of notches. Players are hitting everything that moves, as punishing checks are doled out liberally.

That is, of course, by everyone but Kaberle. The 33-year-old blueliner has been credited with precisely zero hits so far in the playoffs for Boston. Goose egg.

He has been burned on multiple occasions while trying to wave his stick at the puck when a nice, jolting bump would've got both he and his defensive partner out of dodge. He has looked about as confident moving the puck up the ice as a man entering a cage full of hungry lions with his hands tied behind his back. With wavering faith in his own abilities, Kaberle has become turnover prone to boot.

A gaffe in the first period of Game 1 on Saturday, one in which he coughed the puck up at the side of the net and helplessly watched as Lightning forward Teddy Purcell put it behind Tim Thomas to make it 3-0, just might go down as the play Bruins fans remember most about Kaberle's first and possibly only season in Black and Gold.

An unrestricted free agent at year's end, the re-signing of Kaberle seemed like a slam dunk when Chiarelli forked over a hefty package to the Leafs to bring in what he believed was the missing piece for his club. Now, the odds look slim of the GM being inclined to retain him.

That, however, isn't to say that Kaberle couldn't turn things around here and prove his worth. A clutch performance in this conference finals series or, should the B's advance, a major impact in the Stanley Cup finals would undoubtedly sway the opinion of the masses.

But the Bruins' legion of fans and the front office that somewhat pinned their playoff hopes to Kaberle have waited long enough for the once highly-coveted blueliner to step it up, only to be disappointed game after game, week after week and round after round.

Would they love to see their big get leading up to the trade deadline finally come through? Of course. Will they be holding their breath, waiting for Kaberle to do so? Not on your life.