So...Tomas or not Tomas? No, I'm not a headline writer for NHL.com or the guy who titles episodes of The Simpsons (I'm convinced they are the same person, go ahead prove me wrong). I'm just a man trying to answer what is really the last remaining big question surrounding the 2011-2012 edition of the Boston Bruins. In a recent Boston Globe poll, over 67% of people indicated that they are not in favor of the Boston Bruins re-signing Tomas Kaberle. Okay, it's a simple statement, and an easy to interpret result. I don't need an analyst to tell me what the implications are and I don't need the findings to be reviewed by a panel of Ph.D's. But I still need someone to sit down with me and slowly explain to me (like I'm five years old) what is fueling the opinions of that 67%. Go ahead I won't be mad if you use a condescending tone with me, I just want to learn, why all the Kaber-hate (no good? sorry, I make no apologies for my puns).
Now, I understand that one shouldn't take a simple online poll and assume the result is truly representative of the opinions of an entire fan base, but the anti-Kaberle sentiment has been a recurring theme of conversation amongst friends, family and talk radio hosts/callers. For the last two weeks, the Kaberle debate has been practically the lone source of the frustration and negativity that would normally be bathing everything Bruins at this time of year, but I guess an old cup and some cap flexibility can be like a magic wand to a hockey franchise. Too bad Tomas Kaberle seems to be immune to magic (it's truly a double-edged sword).
Let's not forget though that this is Boston we're talking about where sports fans (myself included) all suffer from a specific form of OCD where they fear they will spontaneously combust unless they find something to female dog about. Maybe they just don't want Kaberle back because they need something to yell and scream at each other about in bars. That's not necessarily a sleight or a criticism, after all many sports fans from all over the world suffer from something similar, but it tends to stand out in Boston. It stands out because it continues to persist and permeate a sports culture despite the seemingly endless decade-long parade of rings, trophies, collectible hats and well...parades. So maybe negativity in the face of prosperity seems insincere, misguided or downright selfish, but it is a disorder that was slowly cultivated over many decades of heartbreak and failure, passed from one generation to another, and it is a disorder that is going to take more than one insanely successful decade to weed out of the evolutionary chain.
I get it, but I still think the vitriol towards Tomas Kaberle stems from a disillusionment of sorts and is fueled by several misguided perceptions. So allow me to address some of these perceptions. Don't worry I won't talk to you like your five years old Kaberle-hater, even if you are (I'm sure there's some), because I shouldn't have to. It's just that simple.
First, is the perception of Kaberle's performance in his time with the B's last year. Should he be valued based on 24 regular season games while the rest of his very successful 11+ year be ignored? Let's not forget that even with his modest 9 point output in 24 games with the Bruins, he still finished last season with the fifth most assists among NHL defenseman. If you want to point to his production in the playoffs as a red flag then fine, but he improved in every series the Bruins played and you have to remember that Kaberle played in Toronto his entire career and he cant be put exclusively at fault for not adjusting to a Claude Julien's defense-first system right away. This is a process, and it was a trial by fire. Despite the mixed results, there is every reason to believe that with a full training camp and season with the Bruins, he can still be that prolific puck moving defenseman the Bruins fans have been begging for for since Ray Bourque left (sorry, but Paul Coffey was 39 and well into his decline when he came to Boston).
Second, is the perception that Steven Kampfer is ready to step into Kaberle's role. Well...don't make the mistake of thinking that because Kaberle was put on the third D-pairing for a period of time, that he was or would be the sixth best defenseman on the team, which is exactly what Kampfer would be next year. Look, I like Kampfer a lot, but regardless of that, the bottom line is that Steven Kampfer is NOT Tomas Kaberle, period. Kaberle has been one of the better puck moving defenseman for a decade and Kampfer is a top ten (but in my opinion probably not top five) prospect in a system that is not known to have spectacular depth. Maybe some day Kampfer will be a star (my hometown bias is struggling against the idea that he may not be the next coming of Bobby Orr), but it's not likely and it's certainly not imminent.
Third, is the perception that if Dennis Seidenberg is only worth 3.25 aav, Kaberle is worth 3 or less. Sorry, apples and oranges. Seidenberg's deal looks like great value now, but when the salary cap (and floor) jumped by nearly 5 million, when Wisnewski got 5.5, and when Jovanovski got 4.25 at age 35, Kaberle essentially became a 4 million dollar player again. If he signs somewhere for 3 years at 4 million plus, I wouldn't be shocked at all. If its less, I'll be convinced that Peter Chiarelli was never truly interested in bringing him back at all.
Finally, who do you replace him with? Is there really anyone who is better, cheaper and available? Let's be honest. Unless you're planning on trying to pry someone like Keith Yandle from Phoenix, which is going to cost you north or 4 million and a nice package of picks/prospects (probably including Kampfer), what is your plan? Bryan McCabe? Yawn... Kampfer? Not quite yet.
The Bruins were salivating for years over Kaberle, enough that they gave Toronto Joe Colborne and two picks for him. At the time it was a high but necessary price for a premiere puck moving defenseman and now people are all too willing to just cut their losses? It doesn't add up. This team won a cup with Tomas Kaberle and I'm reasonably sure that they didn't win it despite him. So why spite him? Bring back Tomas.