On hockey

Time to make power play for Kaberle

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / February 16, 2011

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On a night cold enough for hell to freeze over, Phil Kessel scored twice. It had to happen eventually, of course, and the ex-Bruin’s two goals ended up the centerpiece of Toronto’s 4-3 win on Causeway Street.

Here in the Hub of Hockey we’ll be assessing the “Kess Trade’’ for at least another 8-10 years, and more nights like last night could even out the current sentiment that the Bruins fleeced the Blue and White. What we still don’t know about Kessel’s tenure in Toronto, however, is how he’ll produce if paired with a true No. 1 pivot, reminiscent, say, of Mats Sundin. He hasn’t had anyone like that in Toronto, yet he has scored 51 times in more than a season-and-a-half. Again, sans a prime pivot.

Postgame, the Bruins finally made another deal, this one well ahead of the Feb. 28 trade deadline. They picked up some depth with center/wing Chris Kelly, acquired from Ottawa for Boston’s own second-round pick this June. Hardly the blockbuster everyone has been anticipating. The S.S. Bruin has been sailing on choppy waters of late (five games/four losses), and right now the 30-year-old Kelly looks like another deck chair.

In other words, where is Tomas Kaberle?

Leafs general manager Brian Burke and his Boston counterpart, Peter Chiarelli, have talked the last 10-14 days about consummating a deal. Neither side will confirm it, but the centerpiece this time, once again, is Kaberle, Toronto’s veteran blue liner who has been on Boston’s radar so long that his No. 15 has virtually burned into the LED screen in Chiarelli’s office.

Contrary to all the rumors bandied about Boston and Toronto the last 48 hours, the 32-year-old Czech has not waived his no-trade clause. So even if Chiarelli and Burke can come to terms — a deal likely to include Boston’s own first-round pick in this year’s draft — Kaberle can just say no and keep on keepin’ on in Toronto.

Now, if Kaberle were to block the deal, he might not enjoy his final eight weeks of employment in Toronto. But remember, he has been working that end of the hockey universe since Sept. 1998 and the Leafs have gone five straight seasons without making the playoffs. If nothing else, he knows how to endure in unbearable circumstances.

Keep in mind, Kaberle was in much the same spot this time last year, at which time he provided Burke with a short list of cities to which he would agree to be dealt. Boston was on the list. Had the Bruins then had a more aching need for a puck-moving defenseman, a job then held by Dennis Wideman, then perhaps Chiarelli would have been more motivated to get him in Black and Gold. Chiarelli thought he swapped for Kaberle in June 2009, only to have the deal fall apart on the draft floor in Montreal when Burke and the Boston GM couldn’t agree on what first-round draft picks to include in the deal.

The Bruins need Kaberle, desperately, if they have any hope of getting beyond a round or two in the playoffs. He is by no means a physical presence, but he can give them 20 or so minutes of all-around decent defense, and most important, he can add much needed juice to the power play.

Boston’s current man advantage (to be liberal in the use of terms), has Mark Recchi manning the left point with captain Zdeno Chara on the right.

Over the course of four power plays last night, Chara was parked at the point for 6:05 and Recchi for 6:03. That’s roughly an average of 90 seconds for each of them per power play. An eternity by today’s standards. But neither one of them picked up a point during their protracted PP tours.

“A little better,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien, assessing his power play. “But still not good enough.’’

Recchi, among the best scorers in history, is no point man. He could do it when he wore a younger man’s clothes, but at 43, he doesn’t have the shot and he doesn’t have the speed. Guile, yes, and we saw Brad Park override two bad knees on guile alone to be an effective point man. But Recchi just can’t bring it from the 50-foot range and his primary skill, working deftly through traffic in and around the crease, is neutered when he’s playing out there in the wide-open badlands. At this stage of his career, he ought to be fitted with ankle bracelets that would provide an electric shock if he were to wander more than 12 feet from the opposition’s net on the power play.

Kaberle, if he comes here, would slot immediately into the No. 1 PP pairing with Chara. There are no guarantees, but it could be a thing of beauty, the Czech (Kaberle) and the Slovak (Chara), trading passes and serving up more sweet concoctions than a couple of teenagers working the counter at Dairy Queen.

Amid commenting about his deal for Kelly, Chiarelli last night said he felt a better power play would have taken the game against the Leafs in a different direction. Instead of burying the Leafs, the sputtering PP allowed them to remain viable and ultimately pull out a victory in the third period. Power plays are supposed to win games, not lose them.

Meanwhile, the search for the missing ‘D’ continues. Chiarelli said he and his staff were tracking as many as nine blue liners believed to be available. Kaberle is one. Zach Bogosian and Ron Hainsey, both in Atlanta, are two more. Ottawa’s Chris Phillips makes four.

“There are different routes we can take to get there,’’ said Chiarelli.

Asked if he thought he would close a deal for a defenseman, he added with confidence, “Yeah, I think I will.’’

Silently, he no doubt added, “And kiss the season goodbye if I don’t.’’

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at

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