Haggerty: Time to bench Kaberle

Haggerty: Time to bench Kaberle
May 23, 2011, 7:22 am
Share This Post

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