Commentary

Thin Blue Line: Kaberle dealt to Habs

Updated: December 14, 2011, 9:22 PM ET
By Victoria Matiash | Special to ESPN.com

[+] EnlargeTomas Kaberle
Francois Lacasse/Getty ImagesTomas Kaberle has gotten his Canadiens career off to a good start with three assists in two games.

Let us take a step back for a moment, shall we? Before pooh-poohing the Tomas Kaberle-Jaroslav Spacek deal as the most rancid trade in recent NHL memory and labeling Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier as irrefutably insane, perhaps a wait-and-see approach is more suitable. What if -- contrary to what a few howling pundits would have you believe is possible -- Kaberle fits in well and contributes nicely as the newest member of the Canadiens? What if -- hold on, now -- the veteran defenseman actually flourishes with the Habs? It's not that outrageous a proposition.

Before joining the Boston Bruins ahead of last season's trade deadline, Kaberle was an exceptionally productive member of the Toronto Maple Leafs' blue line and an above-average fantasy asset for many seasons. Less than 10 months ago, the experienced D-man left the Leafs with 38 points in 58 games. In spite of recent sub-mediocre stints with the Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes, Kaberle has a grand total of 541 points in 933 NHL regular-season games. Not too dismal. To write off the guy after a few bad weeks with other organizations seems like a foolish move. Just because things didn't work out well in Boston or Carolina, it doesn't mean the relationship in Montreal is doomed -- a suggestion supported by Kaberle's three assists (including a power-play helper) in the initial two games with his new squad.

Top 75 Defensemen

Note: Victoria Matiash's top 75 defensemen are ranked for their expected performance in ESPN standard leagues from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued. ESPN standard stats include goals, assists, power-play points, shots on goal, plus/minus, penalty minutes and average time on ice. Last week's ranking is indicated in parentheses.

1. Dustin Byfuglien, Win (1)
2. Alexander Edler, Van (3)
3. Zdeno Chara, Bos (2)
4. Shea Weber, Nsh (4)
5. Nicklas Lidstrom, Det (5)
6. Duncan Keith, Chi (6)
7. Brian Campbell, Fla (7)
8. Dan Boyle, SJ (8)
9. Keith Yandle, Pho (9)
10. Dion Phaneuf, Tor (10)
11. John-Michael Liles, Tor (11)
12. Ryan Suter, Nsh (14)
13. Christian Ehrhoff, Buf (12)
14. Mark Streit, NYI (15)
15. Sheldon Souray , Dal (13)
16. James Wisniewski, Cls (18)
17. P.K. Subban, Mon (17)
18. Erik Karlsson, Ott (19)
19. Drew Doughty, LA (16)
20. Kimmo Timonen, Phi (22)
21. Kyle Quincey, Col (28)
22. Kevin Shattenkirk, StL (25)
23. Ryan Whitney, Edm (20)
24. Jack Johnson, LA (23)
25. Brent Burns, SJ (24)
26. Sergei Gonchar, Ott (26)
27. Marc-Andre Bergeron, TB (27)
28. Alex Goligoski, Dal (32)
29. Ian White, Det (29)
30. Lubomir Visnovsky, Ana (35)
31. Dmitry Kulikov, Fla (31)
32. Alex Pietrangelo, StL (30)
33. Niklas Kronwall, Det (34)
34. Dennis Wideman, Was (36)
35. Matt Carle, Phi (40)
36. Tomas Kaberle, Mon (41)
37. Joe Corvo, Bos (37)
38. Erik Johnson, Col (33)
39. Dennis Seidenberg, Bos (38)
40. Jay Bouwmeester, Cgy (46)
41. John Carlson, Was (45)
42. Marek Zidlicky, Min (NR)
43. Michael Del Zotto, NYR (48)
44. Cam Fowler, Ana (47)
45. Tobias Enstrom, Win (65)
46. Matt Niskanen, Pit (54)
47. Jamie McBain, Car (52)
48. Nick Leddy, Chi (43)
49. Zach Bogosian, Win (49)
50. Jason Garrison, Fla (50)
51. Nikita Nikitin, Cls (51)
52. Kevin Bieksa, Van (60)
53. Fedor Tyutin, Cls (53)
54. Kurtis Foster, NJ (NR)
56. Joni Pitkanen, Car (39)
55. Dan Hamhuis, Van (59)
57. Paul Martin, Pit (58)
58. Brent Seabrook, Chi (44)
59. Dan Girardi, NYR (55)
60. Kris Letang, Pit (21)
61. Stefan Elliott, Col (66)
62. Jared Spurgeon, Min (61)
63. Cody Franson, Tor (71)
64. Stephane Robidas, Dal (63)
65. Ryan McDonagh, NYR (62)
66. Tom Gilbert, Edm (68)
67. Marc-Edouard Vlasic, SJ (64)
68. Sami Salo, Van (75)
69. Marc-Andre Gragnani, Buf (56)
70. Grant Clitsome, Cls (69)
71. Tim Gleason, Car (NR)
72. Jared Cowen, Ott (NR)
73. Adam Larsson, NJ (70)
74. Kris Russell, StL (74)
75. Tyler Myers, Buf (NR)

Maybe he is out of shape and all washed up. Perhaps Gauthier was indeed out of his mind in taking on Kaberle's ginormous three-year, $12.75 million deal in exchange for veteran Spacek. But we can't be sure of that yet. And the story might end up having a much happier ending for all involved. Goodness knows, with Andrei Markov (sadly) out indefinitely, the Canadiens need Kaberle to be a productive presence on the blue line, especially with the man advantage. Taking a longer and more rational look at history, we're going to predict the 33-year-old is up to the task.

Rising and falling

Jamie McBain, Carolina Hurricanes (up five spots): On the flip side of the Kaberle deal, the Hurricanes are ramping up expectations and demands of young McBain. While Spacek, Tim Gleason and Justin Faulk will get the chance to contribute with the man advantage, the bulk of power-play minutes should fall to McBain, especially now that Joni Pitkanen is out indefinitely with a concussion.

Kurtis Foster, New Jersey Devils (re-emerges at No. 54): The Devils are hoping the addition of Foster via trade will provide the necessary fix to the blue line's shortcomings, production-wise. An admitted dud in recent stints with the Anaheim Ducks and Edmonton Oilers, Foster still has the tools and talent to contribute offensively, each and every game, particularly with the man advantage. A puck-moving, power-play specialist, the 30-year-old got off to a good start in his first game with the Devils, putting in Ilya Kovalchuk-like minutes with the extra skater (5:56) on only a couple of hours sleep. Even though Foster didn't register a point, GM Lou Lamoriello reportedly is rather smitten with the defenseman's shot from the point. A productive force in earlier gigs with the Minnesota Wild and Tampa Bay Lightning, Foster could be one of the better fantasy stories in the second half of the season.

Mike Green, Washington Capitals (not ranked): There are limits, and our patience regarding Green's groin issue has nearly eroded entirely. The former fantasy heavyweight reportedly is seeing a specialist about his injury, which could indicate another setback in the healing process. Dreary news indeed. Dealing with the groin and an earlier high-ankle sprain, Green has missed 20 of the past 21 games. We won't bother to re-evaluate the 26-year-old until he returns to fiddle-fitness. Until then, Dennis Wideman and John Carlson are the only two blueliners worth owning from Dale Hunter's roster.

Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild (down one spot): The pending return of Marek Zidlicky (concussion), which could take place any game now, throws a slightly damp towel on Spurgeon's blossoming fantasy stature. However, the ever-improving 22-year-old should continue to morph into a reliable offensive threat as he gains more experience. Keep an eye on this young lad.

Key injuries and other notes

Out for more than a month with a broken finger, Lubomir Visnovsky should be back in the lineup when the Anaheim Ducks face the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday. ... Listed as day-to-day, Zdeno Chara (knee) will sit out Wednesday's contest between the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators. However, there's a solid chance Chara will return this weekend. ... Officially, Chris Pronger is out indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms. In reality, his owners can simply hope to see the veteran back in uniform for the Philadelphia Flyers before March. ... Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins has a concussion. That's all we know. Hopefully the elite D-man will be able to rejoin his teammates in practice before the end of the month. ... Tobias Enstrom (collarbone) is taking part in practice and should be back in action for the Winnipeg Jets in the next couple of weeks. ... The Ottawa Senators' Sergei Gonchar is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury. He shouldn't be out long. ... The Nashville Predators demoted Jonathan Blum to Milwaukee.

Power-play performers

Although by no means a fantasy gem, Jay Bouwmeester is more valuable an asset now than he was a couple of weeks ago. With Mark Giordano and Anton Babchuk on IR, the Calgary Flames are essentially stuck with relying on Bouwmeester to anchor the power play whenever possible. And the 28-year-old has done a fair enough job in recent days. Plus, Bouwmeester is bested by few others when it comes to ice time. Playing an even larger percentage than usual, the former first-round draft pick has averaged around 28 minutes in the Flames' past eight games. Derek Smith and T.J. Brodie have potential, but Bouwmeester is the only member of the Flames' blue line deserving of a spot in the top 75 at the moment.

Victoria Matiash is a fantasy hockey analyst and Rumor Central contributor for ESPN.com.

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