Haggerty: Time to bench Kaberle

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Haggerty: Time to bench Kaberle

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON First off, theres little need for wholesale changes with the Bruins. Not when theyre tied 2-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals with two of the three remaining games on their own TD Garden ice.

Claude Juliens crew still remains in the dominant position over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and truth be told theyre the better team -- especially with a healthy, fully functional Patrice Bergeron back at the height of his powers.

Theres really no reason to insert Shawn Thornton into the series against Tampa Bay despite his prominent leadership role. His six minutes per game in the playoffs arent a difference-maker in a series and the enforcer role isnt all that vital against a skilled team like the Lightning.

Likewise, shuffling the lines and pushing Tyler Seguin into a role requiring 16-18 minutes of ice time per night in the playoffs is similarly courting danger. There is such a thing as asking more from the prodigiously talented youth than he can contribute at this point in his career.

A major shakeup along the roster and everyday lineup would come off as the ultimate Chicken Little move for a coaching staff embedded in the stay the course way of doing things. Theres simply no need, and Claude Julien is wise enough to know it.

But there is one change that has to be made heading into Monday nights important Game 5 in Boston.

Theres been enough turning-the-corner talk, and pointless hope that the Bruins can salvage something out of defenseman Tomas Kaberle.

Trading a first-round pick, Joe Colborne and perhaps a second-round pick if the Bruins do make it to the Cup Finals to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Kaberle has become Peter Chiarellis version of the flawed 2007 Red Sox deal that brought Eric Gagne to Boston. In that instance the Sox won the World Series title despite Gagnes presence, and not because of him.

Itll have to be the same thing with the Bruins. Kaberle has flopped just as spectacularly as Gagne, and its reached the point where hes legitimately hurting the team in a role that's been reduced in a way nobody within Bostons front office anticipated at the time of the trade.

Its time for Julien to make the move, and mercifully pull the plug on the Kaberle experiment.

Its almost unfathomable how much the puck-moving defenseman debilitated the Bruins in only 11:35 of ice time during the Game 4 loss to the Bolts.

Kaberles feeble turnover behind the Boston net led directly to Sean Bergenheims game-tying score in the second period, and the 33-year-old couldnt block out Simon Gagnes game-winning score in the third period when Tim Thomas was counting on him to block it by any means necessary.

Thats not even counting the two failed power-play chances at the start of the second period, which sucked all the momentum out of Bostons corner.

The line has to be drawn for Kaberle now that hes gone from a neutral performer with no real benefits to a player thats detracting from the teams performance.

The Bruins' power play was 7-for-66 during the regular season after his arrival from Toronto on Feb. 18, and the Bs are 4-for-52 on the man advantage during 15 playoff games this spring. That means the Bruins PP is humming at a 9.3 percent success rate (11-for-118) since Kaberle entered the Boston scene, and thats beyond pathetic for a club harboring legitimate Cup aspirations.

Of course the power play maladies go beyond Kaberles futility, but his labored skating, compromised confidence and inability to make snap decisions in crunch time have hampered any shot at consistent special-teams performance during the postseason.

No matter what Julien says publicly about Kaberle and the teams belief in him, its clear the coaching staff has lost confidence in the player as hes relegated to a bottom pairing defenseman. No amount of public spin and positive feedback can cover up the stench left on the ice after Kaberles shift has concluded and another round of mistakes have to be cleaned up by his teammates.

He hasnt surpassed 20 minutes of ice time since the opening playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, and his pairing with Adam McQuaid was a flammable liability in Saturdays loss to the Lightning.

With all of that in mind, Steve Kampfer or Shane Hnidy might give the Bruins a tougher, more stable option for minutes along the blueline as Kaberle exhibits weakness when playoff hockey consistently rewards the strong.

Kampfer hasnt played an NHL game since March 31 and suffered a knee injury at the end of the season, but the 22-year-old also took part in the pregame warmup Saturday afternoon for the first time in the playoff run. Hes finally healthy enough to play, and Kampfer can move the puck and play on the power play while also playing with a bit more physical toughness than Kaberle.

Hnidy's played in three games thus far during the playoffs though only a total of nine minutes and could add a bit of the physical toughness around the net thats sorely absent in the defensively deficient Kaberle.

The top five Bs defensemen might have to shoulder more of the load should Kaberle sit in favor of another option, but thats a far better choice for a Boston team thats going to be under heavy pressure from Tampa. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have shown they can shoulder a 30-minute burden if it comes to that during the postseason.

The 1-3-1 trap isnt working against the Bruins, and Guy Boucher's team is tasting success most when Tampa submits a heavy forecheck to suffocate the Boston defensemen.

Neither solution is perfect for the Bs, of course, but simply trotting out Kaberle game after game because of the kings ransom that brought him to town isnt a perfect solution, either.

There is still time to come clean, admit that Kaberle didnt work out when everybody including this humble hockey writer thought he would perfectly address Bostons needs, and move on.

The only priority at this time of year for a hockey team is winning games, and Kaberle is subtracting from the effort each night hes out on the ice for the Bruins.

It doesnt look like the great moment of redemption is coming for an aging defenseman (who is costing himself a lot of money in free agency, by the way) and its high time for the Bruins to cease production on the Tomas Kaberle Affair.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Haggerty: Bruins motto is don't just do something, stand there!

Haggerty: Bruins motto is don't just do something, stand there!

After back-to-back, soul-crushing losses earlier this week, the Bruins responded by doing pretty much what they've done over the last couple of seasons:

Nothing.

Claude Julien was not relieved of his duties -- as many expected after the Bruins blew a couple of three-goal leads in a shootout loss in Detroit on Wednesday night -- and there was no big shakeup for a reeling hockey club that certainly feels like it needs it.

Instead the Bruins will host the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night after going through a “nothing-to-see-here, everything-is-fine” morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena, then go to Pittsburgh for a Sunday afternoon matinee against a Penguins team that’s playing some pretty good hockey.

Maybe the Bruins will play better than they did in taking one out of a possible four points against two of the worst teams in the East -- the Islanders and Red Wings -- and perhaps that will tamp down some of the unrest among those that closely follow this organization.

But the fact is, the Bruins front office doing nothing in the face of stunning underperformance from its hockey club is the furthest thing from courage, bravery or doing the right thing.

This is the third straight year we've seen no-shows and a startling lack of emotional engagement from a team that collapsed down the stretch and missed the postseason in each of the last two seasons, and is now in a position where it may not even be in the playoff hunt at the end of this one. To sit still as it happens again feels, to this humble hockey writer, like willful indifference in the face of the obvious: Something is broken with the Bruins.

There's no single big trade that can fix it, not with the Coyotes and Avalanche as the only true sellers. And a Bruins management group with the true best interests of the hockey club in mind would look at the 'seller' option, dealing away some of the core pieces and starting a true rebuild around Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and the young players under team control that are beginning to filter into the NHL level.

But it doesn’t feel like this current B’s front office, or the ownership group, has the appetite for that, and instead wants to retool on the fly while also attempting to compete for the playoffs. That’s a delicate balance and it’s one that has caused the Red Wings to go sideways this season, putting them in danger of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1990-91.

That’s the same Red Wings team, incidentally, that somehow came back from deficits of 3-0 and 4-1 against the Bruins on Wednesday.

With a trade unlikely, the easiest way to a short-term spark continues to be a change with the head coach. Everybody knows Claude Julien has been the best coach in the modern Bruins era, and he’ll forever be loved and cherished in the Boston area for helping win the Stanley Cup in 2011. But the jarring comments from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand about the team not being ready to play, and collectively taking the Isles too lightly, can’t be ignored.

It feels like things are altogether too comfortable in the Bruins dressing room, and that can be a byproduct of the same coach with the same core group of players for the last 10 years. The sense here is that the Bruins need a short term butt-kicker who'd come in and challenge some Bruins veterans who haven’t been challenged enough in recent years, and will bring an edge to a group that’s look satisfied and happy lately while insulated with big-money contracts and no-movement clauses.

That kind of move could give the Bruins enough of a nudge to get them into the playoffs this season, and help ease the rebuilding pain until Charlie McAvoy, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Zach Senyshyn and the next wave of Bruins prospects are ready to blossom.  

Instead the fancy-stats brigade will tell you that the Bruins are automatically going to turn things around because of the incredibly slim premise that it’s all based on shooting percentage, and Bruin apologists will tell you that the roster simply isn’t good enough right now. So riding it out with Julien is the right move because he's the MacGyver-like chewing gum that’s holding it all together right now.

Sorry, but many are not buying this Bruins-approved message.

They have two-thirds of the best forward line from the World Cup of Hockey in Bergeron and Marchand. They have a legitimate No. 1 goalie in Tuukka Rask. They have experienced, proven winners in David Krejci, David Backes and Zdeno Chara. They have bright, young talents in David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo. And they're about to get passed by the Senators and Maple Leafs in the playoff race once those other teams catch up to Boston in games played. Nobody can make the straight-faced claim that Toronto or Ottawa is superior to the Bruins in the overall talent department.

The Bruins are underachieving this season, and some players have been truly disappointing in big spots.

The simple truth is that Julien isn’t getting the most out of them. They settle for perimeter shots far too much in the offensive zone, which plays into the poor team shooting percentage, and they take opponents lightly far too often for a hockey club in the NHL’s middle class.

Those kinds of traits fall back on the coach, and, unfortunately, replacing Julien is the most readily available card for Bruins management to play when they finally begin feeling the desperation and urgency that’s been missing too much this season.

Perhaps some of it is a fear of removing a popular, accomplished figure like Julien, and then watching him have success somewhere else. Perhaps some of it is a hesitancy to turn things over to assistants Joe Sacco and Bruce Cassidy at such a delicate point in time this season. Perhaps some of it is that one of the few real alternatives the Bruins are facing would be general manager Don Sweeney or team president Cam Neely actually manning the bench as Julien’s replacement if they fired the head coach, a maneuver that hasn’t been seen with the Bruins since the Harry Sinden days when Mike O’Connell went to the bench in 2002-03 after firing Robbie Ftorek.

Whatever the reason, the Bruins still haven’t seen enough to decide that something needs to change with this group sputtering along to another playoff DNQ. The fans are decrying it while holding their hefty season-ticket package bills in their hands, the clear-eyed observer sees it without question, and there’s no doubt some hard-working Bruins players are hoping for it behind the scenes on a ship that’s taking on water.

But nothing of significance is going to change with this Bruins team until they make a change, and that’s something they continue to avoid.

Thursday, Jan. 19: Torts doesn't think LeBron could play hockey

Thursday, Jan. 19: Torts doesn't think LeBron could play hockey

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wondering if the Bruins are ever going to poop, or get off the pot.
 
*John Tortorella wants everybody to know that he thinks there isn’t a chance that Lebron James could play hockey.
 
*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s my radio hit with Toucher and Rich this morning about whether or not Claude Julien should be fired after back-to-back bad losses against the Islanders and Red Wings.
 
*How did Shane Doan arrive at an unhappy place with the Arizona Coyotes where he now is open to moving elsewhere ahead of the trade deadline?
 
*Henrik Lundqvist’s season is entering a crisis level based on what he’s done, and the diminished performance level he’s showing as a more mature goaltender.
 
*A nice piece with a Canadian hockey hero, Hayley Wickenheiser, who recounts some of the legendary moments of her career through a series of pictures.
 
*I totally respect the work that Travis Yost does, but stating the Bruins should stick with Claude Julien because their shooting percentage is bound to turn around isn’t good enough grounds to keep a floundering situation intact, in my opinion. You need to check where the shots are coming from and how many of those shot attempts are completely missing the net to get a better grasp on some of the reasons behind Boston’s dreadful 10-year low shooting percentage. That would also explain some of the reason why Julien needs to be replaced coaching a team that’s largely content on perimeter shots to do it for them while also only sporadically showing the effort required from a middle class talent type of team.

*The Lightning are struggling at Joe Namath levels right now without Steve Stamkos in their lineup, and they need that to change.
 
*For something completely different: congrats to the Boston boys in New Edition for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.