I was recently asked by frequent commenter the-wolfe to look at a hypothetical trade of Matt Stajan for Tomas Kaberle. The thinking is that perhaps the Flames can swap problem contracts with the Hurricanes while perhaps adding some depth to a blueline that is suddenly puddle deep.
On the surface, Kaberle doesn’t seem like a terrible target. A former all-star, he’s scored 40+ points from the blueline eight times, including 47 last year split between the Bruins and Leafs. Kaberle isn’t young at 33-years old but he’s also not exactly in the what most would consider the twilight years either.
The surface stats are complimentary. The truth, though, is the Leafs mollycoddled Kaberle for years.
The season the Flames traded Dion Phaneuf for a grab-bag of Leafs, for instance, Ian White came back the other way and was enjoying a career high in terms of points. He ended with 38, a number we now know thanks to hindsight to be mostly an aberration.
White played with Kaberle that season on the Leafs back-end. The pair saw some of the softest circumstances available to anyone who skates more than 13 minutes a night. Kaberle ended the year with a team high zone start ratio of 57.5% and one the lowest quality of competition ratings on the Leafs. His minutes didn’t get any harder once Phaneuf came to town either: the next season, Kaberle’s zone start was 58.3% and his quality of competition rating was again lower/middle of the pack in Toronto (Mike Komisarek saw better quality players in aggregate than Tomas that year).
During the Bruins playoff run, Kaberle continued to get the high ground. His zone start in 25 post-season games with Boston was a team-high 63.7% and only Shane Hnidy saw easier opposition. Kaberle’s other numbers were superficially good in Bean Town, but he was set up to succeed.
Perhaps that’s why the Bruins didn’t bother to re-sign Kaberle. He was inked by Carolina in the off-season and pretty much been a disaster for the Hurricanes with just seven assists in 28 games. His starting position is still the easiest amongst regular skaters (55.3%) and he’s facing the easiest competition on the team (-0.041) but he’s underwater in terms of possession (-6.63 corsi/60).
Those are terrible results for just about any veteran d-man, but especially bad considering Kaberle’s ticket ($4.25M/year for three years). He used to be a guy who would produce on the PP and take advantage of the softies at ES, but one wonders glancing at his numbers this year if, at 33-years old, Kaberle has crested the hill and is on the downslope of his career.
Of course, the question isn’t really is Kaberle good, merely – is he a better bet than Stajan?
The answer is: probably not. In absolute terms, Stajan is a completely middling player, certainly not worth his own contract of $3.5M/year, but he’s at least keeping his head above water while facing the nobodies this year. This is perhaps bad timing because Kaberle scored three points versus the Flames last night and Stajan looked mostly lost, but Matt’s underlying numbers have only been mediocre during his time in Calgary – never terrible. He’s played a depth position this season and held his own with a corsi of +4.81. That isn’t impressive – his zone start is a near team high 54.5% – but at least he’s not underwater, like Kaberle. There’s perhaps some team effects in there, but there isn’t much evidence to suggest Kaberle would suddenly find his form again (as underwhelming as it was previously) if he was moved to Calgary.
In addition, Kaberle is actually marginally more expensive than Stajan and the Flames are filled to the brim with defenders who need sheltering (Brodie, Babchuk, Piskula, Sarich, Smith). Adding another guy to that pile wouldn’t much help Calgary’s blueline depth problems sans Giordano.
The club already has their "guy who is only functional on the PP" in Babchuk. No need to another one, at nearly twice the price – even if they can rid themselves of Stajan in the process.