We've been hearing for 3 seasons now that Spacek is an untradeable player due to his contract, but now he's been dealt for another player that legions of fans call untradeable as the Montreal Canadiens exchange Spacek for Tomas Kaberle in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes.
In the wake of the trade Frederic St. Denis has been sent back to Hamilton, which will surely help the Bulldogs' decimated defense corps.
Over the last several years and over their careers Tomas Kaberle has been vastly superior to Jaroslav Spacek, so what's the catch? Well Spacek is a UFA after this season, and although Kaberle only earns 417K more this season, he has 3 remaining years on his contract including this one.
Cue the impotent internet rage.
You would think that after the James Wisniewski trade, signing Erik Cole, finally luring over Alexei Emelin and making the right move with Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak (signing Price to a steal of a deal), that Pierre Gauthier would get some benefit of the doubt from Habs fans about his level of intelligence, but no. Instead everyone is assuming that this will cause us to lose Josh Gorges or Andrei Kostitsyn. Because we all know how great the majority of Habs fans are at predicting the moves the organization makes, right?
So everybody calm down. Stop worrying about what ifs and let's look at what is. Cap space can be created in the offseason and as Elliott Friedman has noted, Kaberle is very tradeable during the offseason. So does Kaberle improve the Canadiens right now?
This is the big question, and undoubtedly Kaberle is a better player than Frederic St- Denis, but really who he will be replacing is the man he was traded for. Most likely he will be expected to play on the 3rd defense pairing like Spacek was. Not much on behindthenet.ca makes Kaberle look very good. He's negative on puck possession with a weak quality of competition. However his Qualcomp rating isn't even close to Spacek's so he'll likely be far more sheltered in Montreal than he was in Carolina. Kaberle's Qualcomp in Carolina was -.071, compared to Spacek's -.237. That's a large difference. In fact the closest score to Kaberle on the Habs is Raphael Diaz, who's at -.070 and he's been playing second pairing minutes all year.
Kaberle was also sheltered by the Rel Corsi Qualcomp measure, which is the average relative Corsi rating of his opponents. He was most sheltered among Carolina's D with -.165 rating. Again however, Spacek was far more sheltered with a -1.116 rating.
Both Kaberle and Spacek were sheltered in zone starts, with Kaberle starting 54.9% of his shifts there, and Spacek starting 58.1% of his shifts there. So we're seeing a trend line here. Both players were treated as a 6th defenseman on their team at even strength, but Montreal's coaching staff is far more efficient at sheltering players than Carolina's. This is possibly because P.K. Subban and Gorges are so strong on tough minutes matchups.
So aside from sheltering, how was their play? In a bit of a preview for our upcoming first quarter player review, I'll break down how we evaluated players over the first 22 games using Spacek's stats, then I'll bring in Kaberle as a comparable.
As you can see, Spacek was way below par on possession. His 441 Corsi score is pretty bad considering his soft minutes, but because he and the team block a lot of shots, his Fenwick and Corsi look slightly better. Overall however, the Canadiens only possessed the puck 44.1% of the time when Spacek was on the ice. Not the worst 3rd pairing defenseman in the world, but not a world beater.
Spacek had a below team average on ice shooting percentage at even strength (average was 7.4% over the first 22 games), but received far above average goaltending that just isn't sustainable over long periods. This brought Spacek's PDO to 1027, which means he was getting pretty lucky out there. His luck from Price and Peter Budaj playing so well for him gave him a nice positive +/- number.
Now you can see that Spacek was a negative on the scoring chance count, but because I don't have Kaberle's numbers there I'm going to ignore that because it wouldn't be a fair comparison.
Right away one thing is obvious; Kaberle is a much better possession player than Spacek is. He's still below par, but remember that he wasn't near as sheltered as old Jaroslav. If he plays the same position Spacek was playing, it is very likely that he can become a positive possession player with Montreal.
Another thing to notice is that Kaberle was given average goaltending (by Montreal's standards) at even strength, however his team's shooting percentage while he was on the ice is Gomezian. That kind of shooting percentage usually doesn't last very long, and he'll likely regress to the mean at about 7.5% over the course of the year. Because of his team's low shooting percentage his PDO is also much lower than Spacek's is, meaning random variance wasn't in his favour so far this season. This contributed heavily to his low +/- rating, but it's also important to know that Kaberle's true +/- is far better than that listed on his stats page. Listed as a -12, a whopping 6 of those minuses came from shorthanded and empty net goals.
Throughout his career, Kaberle has been vilified as a player who doesn't shoot enough. But is it even true? Our own Bruce Peter went through the last few years to check where Kaberle ranked on his respective teams shot totals among defensemen:
He had 1.93 shots/game in 2009-10, and 1.59 per game in 2010-11. He was at 1.71 per game before the trade to Boston.
Kaberle would've been first on the Habs in shots on goal in 2009-10, and third last year behind Subban and Wiz. His Toronto shot rate would put him about tied with Weber for shots by a d-man on this year's team, 2nd on the team.
Maybe he doesn't shoot as often as many fans want, but after 931 games played and 538 points you would think some people would give him the benefit of the doubt.
Another reason Kaberle is a significant upgrade over Spacek is that he's younger and more durable. Kaberle has played 82 games 4 times in 6 seasons after the lockout, a 5th season with 74 games and is on pace to play 80 this year after a couple healthy scratches in Carolina. He's only sustained one major injury since 2007 and it was a broken right hand.
No one should be expecting the world here, we essentially got this guy for a spare part who barely plays, but allow for the possibility that Kaberle just wasn't a fit with the Hurricanes. Despite all the ranting about how terrible he was for Boston last year in the playoffs, he still had 11 assists and registered a +8 rating, including 5 PP assists on that horrendous Boston powerplay.
If you're expecting 10 goals and 60 points you're sure to be disappointed, but if you're expecting a solid 3rd pairing defenseman who can dish pucks to Subban on the powerplay while helping the transition game at even strength, Kaberle is probably going to perform to your expectations.