So, the Montreal Canadiens traded defenceman Jaroslav Spacek for Tomas Kaberle last Friday. Neither player is currently a world-beater but, judging from the reaction from the media (both mainstream and social) and the blogosphere, you would think the Habs had traded Carey Price or Tomas Plekanec for the proverbial bucket of pucks. The reaction was hilariously over the top. The shockwaves even affected normally level-headed journalists like The Gazette’s Dave Stubbs, who took to Twitter (@habsinsideout1) to scratch his head: “I liked what Spacek brought on & off
#Habs ice. I believe Kaberle’s best-before date has expired. I might be wrong but I doubt it.”
Well, guess what? The next day, the Canadiens won 2-1 over New Jersey and Mr. Kaberle chipped in assists on both goals, with the first coming on the power play. Score: Tomas Kaberle 1, just about everybody with any interest in the Habs 0.
Now, one game means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Kaberle may be rejuvenated with the Canadiens, or he might be an expensive bust. That’s not what this post is about. What it’s about is how quick and savage was the rush to judgement. The question that is the title of this post was on everyone’s lips, and the answer seemed to be that there was no logical reason for the trade, no upside. ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun, writing in the ESPN Cross Checks blog, ended his post by stating, “This was a desperate move by a team in desperation.” Some cooler heads could be heard above the din. Montreal broadcaster Ted Bird was on Twitter (@manofbird) the day of the trade and provided some much-needed perspective. In addition, he had a question for the fans: “If you become this unhinged over a hockey trade, how do you deal with things that really matter?
#getagrip” (And see his blog post today for a succinct evisceration of the herd reaction to the trade. The title of the post says it all.)
But what struck me the most about reaction to the trade was the implicit assumption that there was NO rational basis for it. Fans (and the media) seem quite willing to believe that Canadiens’ management made a completely illogical, doomed-to-failure, desperation move. Now, I have often wondered about player moves the Habs have made in my 40-odd years of following the team. Some I couldn’t understand. But I never assumed that, because I couldn’t see the rationale, that meant there wasn’t one. I know there is an element of calculated risk in every player move. All the team’s management can do is make a decision based on the best information they have, plus their knowledge of their own team and how they think the new player might perform in their new surroundings. Perhaps they thought that Kaberle’s defensive liabilities might be minimized within the Habs’ system – I don’t know. But what I DO know is that their thinking didn’t go like this: “Well, don’t know anything about this Kaberle fellow, so let’s trade Spacek for him and take on his big salary and see what happens.” Or “Kaberle? He used to be good years ago, so let’s trade Spacek for him and hope for the best.” (And have you noticed that Spacek achieved Savardian heights of defensive excellence the moment he was traded?)
What were the Canadiens thinking on the Kaberle deal? I don’t know and (given that the Habs’ brass are notoriously uncommunicative) I may never know. But I know enough to know that I DON’T know better than they do.
And why are so many fans so sure they know better than team management? Well, that’s the subject of an upcoming post. Stay tuned.
And, as always, your comments are welcome. I approve all comments that are not spam.