March 2, 2007 may not seem that long ago, it was the night that the Maple Leafs rolled into New Jersey for their 3rd of four meetings during the 2006-07 season. It was also the night that Cam Janssen decided to provide the Maple Leafs best defender with a late hit to the head. A hit that knocked Kaberle in the boards, unconscious, and out of the line-up for three weeks.
The Leafs were obviously worried about his condition; the immediate prognosis was a concussion and neck/back spasms. As with any neck/head injury that results in a concussion, it is difficult to estimate the severity and therefor the expected repercussions on the player.
Kaberle returned to action on March 23rd @ Buffalo, stepping right back into 20+ minutes of ice-time and recorded a power-play assist (to McCabe) in a 5-4 loss to the Conference winning Sabres. He went on to provide two goals and nine points in the final nine games of the season, including two assists in the final game vs. Montreal. On the season, he finished with 11 goals and 58 points, still tops on his team and top 10 in the league.
This is where the argument begins. Has Kaberle's game changed since the hit? Has his level of play and therefor his effectiveness on the ice been adversely affected?
Let's check the facts.
Since the hit, Kaberle has posted yet another 50+ point season (2007-08) and is on his way to another this season (2008-09). His skating and vision appear to be unaffected and his aversion to physical play - well let's just say he's been able to avoid big hits most of his career.
Sceptics will announce that Kaberle's numbers have slipped, trending down from a peak of 67 pts in the first season back after the lockout, to 53 pts in 2007-08.
My response has been that two things have had a more profound effect on Kaberle than the Cam Janssen hit.
- Paul Maurice
- Pavel Kubina
Kaberle was on the ice for almost 30 minutes per game in 2005-06, under the coaching of Pat Quinn. He was also the benefactor (and quarterback) of the league's 2nd most potent powerplay and managed an astonishing 45 powerplay assists (many toward a league best 107 powerplay goals). With the promoting of Paul Maurice and his team of assistants in 2006-07, the Leafs powerplay sunk to league average (under 18% proficiency), and powerplay goals simply dried up.
Kubina was also signed the same season, meaning Kaberle's ice-time was reduced to a more manageable 24-25 minutes/game. It also meant that Kaberle wasn't on the ice as much 5-5, now that the Leafs were using McCabe, Kubina, and Kaberle in equal measure.
In my opinion, Kaberle looks every bit the quality defender he has since the lockout ended. He's still a top 10 defender in this league and all at a relative discount against the team's salary cap. His value to the team (and around the league) makes him a valuable commodity and a victim of several trade rumours.
Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.
Class dismissed, Go Leafs Go!