2013 Habs Season Preview - How good can Kaberle be?

Richard Wolowicz

According to media reports, Kaberle has come into camp in much better shape than he was in last year, how big of an effect can that have?

Last year Tomas Kaberle was a guy most Habs fans had no time for. Between being a Maple Leaf for his whole career, being a Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruin, and being on a 3 year contract paying him $4.25M a year, there were plenty of reasons for reservations before even considering his play.

That he ended up being out of shape and his play suffered as a result seemed to be the final straw.

However media members and the Canadiens' coaching staff are all singing a different tune during training camp, praising Kaberle's play so far and how he seems to have gotten serious with fitness.

Michel Therrien has praised him and said he expects top 4 minutes out of him, and with P.K. Subban still unsigned, Kaberle is on the top PP unit with Andrei Markov.

But what even if Kaberle is back to his Maple Leafs form, what can we expect from him?

Luckily, we can look at Kaberle's last 5 years and see where he began to decline at even strength. I've worked up a graph of these 5 years that compares Kaberle's 10 game rolling averages for even strength Fenwick %, his offensive zone start %, and his team's Fenwick %.

Kaberle_medium

[High Resolution]

As you can see from the chart, Kaberle has never been a possession monster in the last 5 years. What is surprising though is his extreme drop around game 300 in this sample, which was around the time when he was traded to Boston. That being said, he maintained around a 4 percentage point to 6 percentage point drop from the team's total Fenwick % over this sample. That's not a great sign overall.

His zone starts have become slightly tougher, but not by a margin that really matters, going from about 56% to 54%.

It's important to consider quality of competition when looking at these numbers, so did Kaberle play tougher competition a few years ago, therefore making his possession a bit more impressive? Let's see.

To find out, we'll look at three methods of quality of competition, then look at where he ranked in each on his team.

Year +/- QoC +/- QoC Rank Corsi QoC Corsi QoC Rank RelCorsi QoC RelCorsi QoC Rank
2007-08 0.052 2/8 -0.240 5/8 0.442 2/8
2008-09 -0.040 8/11 -0.334 3/11 -0.111 8/11
2009-10 -0.040 5/9 -0681 7/9 -0.223 5/9
2010-11 -0.031 8/9 0.340 5/9 0.234 6/9
2011-12 -0.062 8/9 -0.561 6/9 -0.581 7/9

Looking at these numbers, Kaberle was no longer a 1st pairing defenseman after the 2007-08 season. In fact, he was barely a top 4 guy at even strength in 2008-09.

If Kaberle has turned back the clock by 5 years at the age of 34, I would be absolutely shocked. Personally, I don't believe he's a top 4 defenseman at even strength anymore.

However, and this is big, he could be an excellent 3rd pairing and powerplay asset. Remember that even at his lowest level of play, Kaberle was on pace for a 42 point season last year, and that was with the Canadiens' powerplay being terrible.

If this were a full season, and Kaberle were to play all of it, I could see him getting 50 points as long as Therrien managed his minutes intelligently. Is he worth $4.25M a year? No, I don't think so, but he could be a useful asset for a team that needs a puck moving defenseman. He may even be a lower end 4th D on some teams.

What this does push home though, is that if the Canadiens want to have a good start to this season, they absolutely must sign Subban in time for Saturday's opener against the Leafs.

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