Just before the NHL trade deadline this past February, the Boston Bruins, with visions of Lord Stanley’s mug in their eyes, made a big splash to acquire former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Tomas Kaberle.
They hoped that he could put them over the top and deliver the Cup to Beantown for the first time since 1972.
After years of trade rumors swirling around him—and after missing the playoffs for six-straight seasons in Toronto—Kaberle finally waived his no-trade clause to play for the contending Bruins, seeing it as a great opportunity to taste the highest highs of professional hockey.
Kaberle, a fantastic puck mover and positionally-sound blueliner, was in many ways seen as the missing piece to Boston’s Stanley Cup puzzle.
He's a player who had experienced two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals while with Toronto and who had won an Olympic Bronze Medal in 2006 with his native Czech Republic.
Recognizing him as someone who could feed their superstar captain Zdeno Chara—he of the 100 mph slapshot—bombs on the power play, the Bruins paid a pretty penny to pry him away from the division-rival Leafs, sending young power forward Joe Colborne (16th overall in 2008), a late 2011 first-round pick, and a conditional 2011 second-round pick (if Boston made the Cup finals, which they did) Toronto’s way.
But Kaberle has struggled mightily with his new team. In 24 regular-season games with Boston, Kaberle had only nine points, including only three on the power play—all assists.
His vaunted passing game has seemed to disappear and his defensive play has been spotty, to say the least. The Bruins power play didn’t improve during the last leg of the regular season, and through the playoffs so far has been utterly atrocious, capitalizing on only 5-of-67 chances.
While it is not fair to lay all the blame for the Bruins’ poor power play on Kaberle’s shoulders, he certainly hasn’t done anything to help alter that perception. Clearly, Kaberle has not been the type of player Boston envisioned getting when they sent that hefty booty Toronto’s way.
But since the team has kept winning, Kaberle’s poor play has been slightly forgiven, even if he hasn’t contributed much, if at all, to his team’s victories.
After all, the ultimate goal in hockey is to win the Stanley Cup, and after dispatching Montreal, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay in succession to reach the finals, Bruins fans would be quick to forgive the bust Kaberle if they were to defeat the Vancouver Canucks and finally hoist the Cup again.
If the Bruins do win hockey’s ultimate prize, fans in Boston won’t remember Coborne or whoever the Leafs draft with those picks.
But after going 0-for-6 with the man advantage in Game 1, it is clear Kaberle hasn’t been doing his job. If the Bruins are to topple the mighty Canucks, they need Kaberle to desperately pick up his play, because Tim Thomas can't stand on his head forever.
They are already down a game, and in a best-of-seven series, being down even just one game puts the Bruins at a significant disadvantage for the rest of the series.
Bruins fans are hoping Kaberle can finally find his game before it’s too late.
It might already be.