Trying to figure out Tomas Kaberle

Out of all of the things that have gone wrong for the Hurricanes this year the one near the top of everyone’s list is the play of Tomas Kaberle. Thought to be a good replacement for Joe Corvo, he was signed to a three year deal worth $12.75 mil. over the summer but he has been anything but that. Kaberle has no goals and only five points in 26 games, has been on ice for only nine goals at even strength and has made numerous mistakes in his own zone that have led to chances and goals for the opposing team. It’s gotten to the point where he’s been scratched for one game and even GM Jim Rutherford has called him out. Kaberle has always been overrated as an offensive defenseman but he has never been this bad in his career before. After the jump, we’ll try to find out what exactly has been wrong with him.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, his contract is awful. Three years isn’t a long commitment but $4.25 mil. a year for a guy who was mainly utilized as a 3rd pair defenseman/powerplay specialist for the Bruins should tell you enough about where he is in his career. I understand the idea of bringing someone like him in with Corvo leaving and Rutherford not knowing if Justin Faulk or Ryan Murphy would be ready so early, but there had to be cheaper/better options out there. With that in mind, Kaberle has been effective offensively for the past few years in his career and his production has taken a complete plunge in 2011-12.

Season EV TOI Sh% Sv% PDO CORSI REL Ozone% QCR ESP/60 SD/60 Corsi Tied
2008-09 16.96 9.33 0.888 982 7.4 57.5 6 0.74 3.9 0.485
2009-10 16.98 7.5 0.897 972 7.7 58.3 4 0.91 6.4 0.522
2010-11 17.16 8.68 0.931 1018 -1 51.8 6 0.9 -2.1 0.474
2011-12 14.51 5.39 0.92 973 -3.9 55.6 8 0.32 -4 0.469

PDO = Sh%+Sv%, QCR = Quality of competition ranking, ESP/60 = even strength points per 60 mins., SD/60 = shot differential per 60 mins., Corsi tied = corsi percentage with score tied

Kaberle’s been regulated to third pairing minutes this year and is still playing sheltered minutes like he has for most of his career but you can tell that almost all of his numbers have been on a steady decline. However, his shot metrics and other underlying numbers have only taken a slight fall from last season and the only area that’s really fallen off is his point total. He’s scoring at a pathetic rate of .32 ESP/60 and that could be related to him shooting at a much lower percentage than he has in recent history. That explains some of it, but the team is getting outshot badly at even strength when Kaberle’s on the ice and he’s averaging less than 2 shots on goal per game so I think it’s more than luck that’s bringing Kaberle down. His powerplay numbers have also gone South. 

2008-09 4.42 12.8 0.903 1031 4.05 48.6 30
2009-10 4.21 10.7 0.889 996 3.13 42.1 29
2010-11 3.86 10.8 0.891 1000 3.6 48.3 31
2011-12 3.79 9.64 0.857 954 1.22 45.6 8

Kaberle has only three points on the powerplay this year and the amount of shots the team has been getting on net with him on the ice isn’t terrible out of line with his career totals. His shooting percentage indicates that he’s gettling slightly unlucky there too but not that much. One thing we can determine is that Kaberle is a player on the decline of his career. Some defensemen have a long shelf life but their play begins to drop when they hit 30 and Kaberle’s three years past that. His career stats and underlying numbers tell us that he’s on the downside of his career but terrible luck has also played a role in his lack of production. His (sometimes) terrible decision making and spotty coverage in his own zone is another story because he’s always had those problems and they are much worse with Carolina because he hasn’t been producing here.

Some of you might remember that I have defended Kaberle before on this blog and felt that he would have a breakout sometime last month. That hasn’t happened yet because while Kaberle did play well at the start of the year, he’s gotten steadily worse.

The blue line is Kaberle’s scoring chance percentage over the season and as you can see, he was at least on ice for a lot of scoring chances at even strength early in the season even if they weren’t translating into points. That’s when I thought he was just unlucky and would eventually turn it around. Instead of that, his play got worse and now he’s performing under .500 and the team average. Yikes. 

The reason why I included the Canes scoring chance percentage in this graph is to show how Kaberle has performed compared to the team and he’s actually played over the Canes average for most of the year until the last couple of weeks. However, it’s worth noting that Kaberle’s also received the easiest defensive assignments on the team as he ranks dead last in corsi relative to quality of competition and only Derek Joslin (who has played in 8 games) has a higher offensive zone start percentage than him.

Even Strength

EV TOI Sh% Sv% PDO CORSI REL Ozone% Adj. CD/60 QCR ESP/60 SD/60 Corsi Tied
Gleason 16.51 7.61 0.918 994 6.6 40.4 9.65 1 0.81 -2.6 0.522
Allen 15.47 9.2 0.907 999 0.7 37 12.57 2 0.57 -2.6 0.5
Pitkanen 16.13 9.15 0.868 959 -0.1 44.2 6.35 3 1.17 -2.4 0.518
Faulk 16.41 7.78 0.892 959 -4.2 50.4 0.73 4 0.33 3 0.449
McBain 15.35 9.03 0.902 992 0.1 43.3 6.09 5 0.74 -4.6 0.533
Joslin 13.14 6.52 0.889 954 -2.7 64.9 -18.95 6 0.57 -2.9 0.418
Harrison 15.24 6.4 0.918 982 -2.2 47.4 2.04 7 1.03 -3 0.457
Kaberle 14.51 5.39 0.92 973 -3.9 55.6 -5.55 8 0.32 -4 0.469

EV TOI = even strength time on ice, PDO = sh% + sv%, Ozone% = Offensive zone start percentage, QCR = Quality of competition ranking, Adj. CD/60 = Adjustted scoring chance differential per 60 mins, ESP/60 = even strength points per 60 mins., SD/60 = shot differential per 60 mins., Corsi tied = Corsi with score tied.

Joslin’s extremely small sample size keeps Kaberle from being the most sheltered defenseman with the worst adjusted scoring chance differential. The reason why I included that is because Kaberle’s been one of the few players on this team that has been sheltered and knowing how he is doing relative to his zone starts gives us better context to compare defensemen. Kaberle has been barely outchancing his competition despite getting some of the cushiest zone starts on the team and I think it’s having a domino effect.

The Canes have five other defensemen with offensive potential and could benefit from sheltering but as of right now, Kaberle and Joslin are hogging all of the offensive zone starts. McBain has been playing well territorially despite his tough zone starts and was scratched the other night for some reason. His biggest skillset is his puck-moving abilities and if he plays easier minutes with more offensive zone starts, it could really help the team. Justin Faulk is another guy who I think could benefit from softer ice-time if he’s going to stay in Raleigh but those minutes have to go to Kaberle right now, and for what? Him to be on ice for 1-3 Carolina scoring chances per game? I know that Kaberle is having a tough month but his poor play and lack of production is having a negative effect on the entire team. A talented defenseman like McBain should not be sitting in the press box but he has to if both Kaberle and Joslin play.

In a sense, I would call Kaberle’s performance with Carolina a perfect storm of poor play, age effects and bad luck. I still think that he’s not as bad as people are saying but I would not mind if he is traded because the Canes have a lot of younger defensemen who can play instead of him. Sure, things could start going better for him if he goes to another team but it might be in the Canes best interest to part ways with the veteran blue-liner instead of waiting on him to turn things around.