Kaberle set to return
After missing the first 55 games of the 2006-07 season, Frantisek Kaberle is set to step back onto the ice tonight in Montreal.
It'd be easy to underestimate what his return means, given he was just one of a parcel of faceless defenders who helped hump the Carolina Hurricanes to a surprising Stanley Cup last season, but there's one tidbit of information that proves just how valuable Kaberle is to his team:
Two-thirds of the way into this season, Mike Commodore leads the Hurricanes blueline with just four goals and 18 points.
This is a team that is dead last in production from its defence, a team without a power-play quarterback that has used a slew of middling defenders (Andrew Hutchinson, David Tanabe, Bret Hedican, Anton Babchuk) to essentially act as dead weight with the man advantage for two-plus minutes a game.
The power-play goal totals for that quartet this season? Three. Power-play assists? Fifteen.
Collectively, they've logged 440 minutes on the power play this season and managed 18 points spread among four players. In 2005-06, including the playoffs, Kaberle skated in 405 power-play minutes and had 27 points all by his lonesome.
Last season, the Hurricanes were anywhere from mediocre (regular season) to terrific (playoffs) on the power play, but this year minus Kaberle, they've been downright awful, 25th in the league at 15.4 per cent. (No wonder, given the makeup of their blueline.)
It's a stat that's left Carolina in eighth spot in the Eastern Conference with 27 games to go, but still just seven points shy of overtaking the Atlanta Thrashers for the division lead. And if Kaberle can boost his team's power play to the level it was at last season, they'll be a good bet to do so — or at the very least get a lock on a playoff spot.
After that, who knows what can happen?
- Kaberle's return from off-season shoulder surgery leaves GM Jim Rutherford with an interesting problem: He's got no fewer than 10 healthy defenceman, and only at most eight or nine roster spots for them. A deal is in the works, but just who will be shipped out isn't entirely certain.
The 'Canes blueline has been a revolving door to a certain extent this season, with only Commodore and Babchuk skating in at least 50 games. After losing only Aaron Ward from last season's Cup-winning club, Rutherford brought in Tanabe, Dennis Seidenberg and Tim Gleason in a trio of trades — and it's likely one of those three on the way back out.
Rounding out Carolina's 10-deep defence core are Glen Wesley, Hutchinson, Hedican and Niclas Wallin.