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Friday, February 18, 2011
Tomas Kaberle won't lead B's to Cup glory

By Scott Burnside

And so, at long last, Tomas Kaberle is a Boston Bruin.

One might suggest it was fated that the rosy-cheeked Toronto defenseman would end up in Beantown.

Tomas Kaberle
Tomas Kaberle is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Of course, if you're a believer in portents, perhaps all the obstacles and false starts and false rumors that marked Kaberle's long-delayed journey from Toronto to Boston suggest that maybe, just maybe, this was never meant to be.

Well, the Bruins are about to find out if the hockey gods will finally smile on them now that Kaberle is theirs.

But after all the Bruins' deals this past week -- the Chris Kelly acquisition, the Kaberle trade and a secondary trade to accommodate the defenseman -- we're not convinced they are any closer to a championship.

To acquire the 32-year-old Kaberle, the Bruins gave up top prospect Joe Colborne, a giant of a center (6-foot-5) who was the 16th overall pick in 2008 and had been playing in Providence for the B's farm team. The Bruins also sent the Leafs their first-round pick in the 2011 draft.

(The Leafs also obtained defenseman Jake Gardiner when they sent Francois Beauchemin back to Anaheim and acquired the Philadelphia Flyers' first-round pick plus a third-round pick when they traded away Kris Versteeg earlier this week. Not bad work for the asset-challenged Leafs, who still remain in the playoff hunt. But for Toronto, these deals cannot be measured in weeks and months, but in years.)

The Bruins? This deal had better pay dividends right away.

In order to fit Kaberle (set to be UFA on July 1) and Kelly into the mix, the Bruins had to trade away useful forward Blake Wheeler and defenseman Mark Stuart to Atlanta on Friday. The Bruins got back Rich Peverley, a likewise useful forward who has one more year left on his contract with a $1.325 million cap hit, along with defenseman Boris Valabik (10th overall pick in the 2004 draft). At best, the 6-7 Valabik is a project; at worst, he's a huge bust.

But all of these moves are window dressing to the acquisition of Kaberle.

The Bruins tried to acquire the Czech defenseman at the 2009 draft in Montreal, but the deal fell apart. After the Bruins imploded in the second round against Philadelphia last spring, GM Peter Chiarelli is hoping Kaberle will help pave the way to a long playoff run.

Although Philadelphia has established itself as the crème de la crème in the East, the rest of the conference is wide open given the offensive issues in Washington and the absence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. So, the Bruins appear to have positioned themselves well down the stretch. The problem is, Kaberle simply isn't that kind of player. If there is the opposite of an impact player, Kaberle appears to be it.

The Bruins are the top 5-on-5 scoring team in the NHL, yet they are 19th while scoring on the man advantage. The assumption is Kaberle will help the Bruins' power play because he is a dynamic puck-mover and smart power-play player. Yet, the Leafs' power play has been dreadful, finishing last season dead last and now sitting at 22nd as of Friday morning. Maybe that is the fault of Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, but certainly some of the blame must lie with Kaberle.

One also has to wonder how Kaberle will fit in with Bruins coach Claude Julien, who demands defensive responsibility from his players. Kaberle has been playing for one of the league's worst defensive teams in recent years. Again, perhaps this is a function of the players around Kaberle, but to say that would be to ignore the obvious flaws in his game -- he is not particularly physical and not particularly good in his own zone.

Finally -- and this is the key point for us -- Kaberle has not played in an NHL playoff game since before the 2004-05 lockout. In any of the past few seasons, he could have gone to management and asked to be moved to a contender. He did not. Does this player have the desire or will to win after seeming to be perfectly content to play out the string in Toronto these past seasons?

Perhaps Kaberle will display a fire and passion in Boston that wasn't seen in Toronto.

Perhaps all this anticipation will pay off with a run to Stanley Cup glory in Boston.

Perhaps. But we're not buying it. Not for a minute.