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Hockey Notes

The dish on Kaberle: He can flat-out pass the puck

By Kevin Paul Dupont
February 27, 2011

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Sure is easy to see why the Bruins have been so eager these last couple of years to add Tomas Kaberle to their back line. The league is chock-full of guys who can provide the grunt work inherent in stout-hearted defense, but few players, forwards included, have Kaberle’s skill for making velvety dishes.

“Not too hard, not too soft, his passes are really flat,’’ said teammate Dennis Seidenberg, who likens Kaberle’s feeds to those of future Hall of Fame forward Peter Forsberg, a Seidenberg teammate in Philadelphia. “Their passes are exactly the same.

“[Kaberle] is probably one of the best passers in the game. And if you are the shooter, it’s easy to work with him, because they come over to you so nice and flat.’’

Kaberle does not have a booming slapper, part of the reason he arrived here from Toronto without a single power-play goal this season. As there are lovers and fighters, there are passers and shooters. Because of those soft hands, Kaberle is now working the left point, designated to dish to Zdeno Chara at the right point.

Think of them as the T (for Tomas) and Z (for Zdeno) tandem.

“Z has the best shot at the blue line,’’ noted Seidenberg, who now projects as a mainstay at the point on the second power-play unit. “When he gets in his spot, everyone wants to get out of the way. He’s probably a lot more dangerous than I am.’’

Your faithful puck chronicler is reminded most of Craig Janney’s sleight-of-hand relays when watching Kaberle work. The puck leaves his stick blade with pace and accuracy, as if generated digitally on a computer screen. Team president Cam Neely sees comparisons to Janney and Adam Oates, both of whom served up the soft dishes that helped Neely rocket home some of his 395 career goals.

“What I see similar in all three guys — Janney, Oates, and Kaberle — is their knack for getting the puck on the shooter’s forehand,’’ said Neely. “They’re fast. They’re flat. And when it gets to the target, it’s there ready to rip, or the guy can just pick it up and go.

“For a lot of guys, it’s hard enough just to get it there, right? But these are soft and flat, perfect for whatever you want to do with them.’’

For the record, if forced to choose, said Neely, he would rank Oates ahead of Janney on the pass-o-meter.

“Adam was righthanded, so at right wing I was getting the puck off his backhand all the time,’’ he recalled. “His backhand was the best I can recall. And [Wayne] Gretzky was right there with him.’’

Headed into last night’s game in Vancouver, Kaberle had scored only 20 times on the power play over the last 5 3/4 seasons, beginning with the post-lockout year of 2005-06. Again, he thinks pass first, shoot when it’s the last or only option.

Meanwhile, his new point partner, Chara, has connected 49 times on the man-advantage since the start of 2005-06. However, Kaberle’s overall power-play production over the same time (177 points) is substantially better than Chara’s (129).

Overall, Kaberle has delivered 37 percent more production than Chara on the man-advantage in the New NHL, and he has done it with a weaker Toronto squad. Should be interesting to track their production for however long T and Z are together in Black and Gold.

ROUND IT OFF
A heads-up from Messiers Mary-Kay Messier, sister of Hall of Famer Mark Messier, keeps up the drumbeat for better head protection at all levels of hockey.

Better helmets, she realizes, aren’t going to eradicate concussions and other hockey-related brain injuries, but they can help diminish the severity of the blows. She and her brother, a GM-in-training with the Rangers, believe the industry needs stiffer testing standards and, in turn, helmets that are better able to withstand high-impact hits.

“It has to be a multifaceted solution,’’ Messier said last week as she made her way around New England, touting the virtues of her brother’s helmet, the M11, manufactured in Liverpool, N.Y., by Cascade Sports.

“Some of it is education, respect among players on the ice, a whole bunch of things.

“That said, though, head protection has to be part of the equation. It’s definitely a factor in all this and it has to be part of the solution.’’

Mark Messier has long believed that part of the issue that keeps hockey from adopting a better helmet is style and design. He believes if the game were willing to accept a rounder helmet — its lines more closely resembling the sleeker headgear worn in motor sports — that alone would curb some of the injuries.

“Mark really believes that years from now, when people really get educated on the subject and how serious it is, the hockey helmet won’t look anything like it does today,’’ said his sister, who lives in Greenwich, Conn., and has three children playing youth hockey.

The M11 sells for $119.99 and is available at a large number of retailers. For more information, check out themessierproject.com. Yes, it’s a commercial venture, but to their credit, the Messiers for the last three years have been steadfast in their commitment to make a better mouse trap. The M11 borrows heavily from the lacrosse helmets Cascade Sports has designed since the mid ’80s.

“It kind of hit Mark funny from the start,’’ recalled his sister. “He looked at lacrosse helmets, and by comparison to what was out there for hockey, their protection was a lot more beefy.

“Lacrosse is a tough sport, too, but it doesn’t have the amount of high-impact hits you see in hockey.’’

A SHOT FROM STASTNY
Hockey dad crosses line Following in the ill-advised talk-first-think-second tracks of Mario Lemieux, Hall of Famer Peter Stastny felt compelled last week to torch the Avalanche for trading Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to St. Louis for stud defenseman Erik Johnson.

“All they needed was some chemistry and some synergies,’’ said Stastny on St. Louis radio station KMOX. “Instead, they destroyed the team.’’

As the father of Avs star Paul Stastny, the brilliant ex-Nordiques pivot sure makes for a sensational sports columnist. Yeesh. What a place for a father to put his son, who, by the way, happens to be on a deal that will pay him an average of $6.6 million through 2013-14.

High marks for passion, dad. Complete failure on wisdom.

Wellesley-based agent Matt Keator, who represents Boston captain Zdeno Chara (and Spoked-B departed Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart), figures Peter was frustrated, knowing how much Paul enjoyed having Stewart as a linemate.

Peter and his brothers, Anton and Marian, had to sneak out under cover of what was then Czechoslovakia in the late ’70s to make it to North America and suit up for Les Nordiques. In their day, they were among the game’s most exquisite entertainers, three men magically moving the puck as one.

Peter Stastny was a pleasure to deal with then and remains a man of great achievement and dignity. Time may prove that the Avalanche were indeed foolish to deal Stewart and Shattenkirk. But like all hockey dads, he should have known to stay out of his kid’s business.

ETC.
The battle cry of new owner A blubbering Terry Pegula took the podium in Buffalo Tuesday and conveyed his conviction, as new owner of the Sabres, to turn the club into a perennial Stanley Cup contender. The 59-year-old Pegula really teared up when he referenced Sabres icon Gil Perreault in the crowd. “My hero,’’ said Pegula. All the tugged heartstrings aside, Pegula has brought in Ted Black as team president and Ken Sawyer as senior adviser, and left Darcy Regier (GM) and Lindy Ruff (coach) in place. All in all, not the brooming/rebranding that many predicted for a club that only twice (’75, ’99) has made it to the Cup finals since entering the league in 1970. Of greatest concern, Pegula sounded too much like a fan first, and that kind of ownership/management can translate into disaster. But in a promising line that will live in infamy, the deep-pocketed Pegula eased all financial concerns for the small-market club when he said, “If I want to make some money, I’ll go drill a gas well.’’

A Jack for Jacques? Even if he doesn’t nudge his Devils into the playoffs, coach/mastermind Jacques Lemaire deserves strong consideration for the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year. No one has been hotter than the former Exit 16Ws, who were so many dead men (9-22-2) skating under the brief tutelage of John MacLean. The Devils are 17-9-2 in their latest Lemaire era, on course for perhaps a dramatic finish that has them facing the Rangers April 9 in a Madison Square Garden matinee and then the Bruins in an April 10 matinee at The Rock. Only two coaches have taken over clubs in midseason and gone home with The Jack: Bruce Boudreau, who went 37-17-7 after taking over the Capitals from Glen Hanlon in 2007-08, and Bill Barber, 31-16-7 with the 2000-01 Flyers after taking over from Craig Ramsey.

Wheels can’t get rolling For now, it looks as if the dropping-like-a-stone Thrashers will keep ex-Bruin Blake Wheeler on the wing (specifically, right). Coach Claude Julien took a brief look at Wheels at center this year, only to shift him back to the wall. Wheeler to the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “In Boston sometimes, a little bit of frustration set in with everything.’’ Wheeler’s speed remains his greatest asset, especially considering his size (6-5/210), but the question remains whether he’ll ever be on a team deep enough and open enough in offensive style to play fully to his advantage.

Cold, hard facts The skating and passing the Bruins displayed in Calgary Tuesday night was their best in years. Yes, years. Speaks most to talent, of course. But a little of that was due to the quality ice surface in Calgary, something that should play to their advantage again this evening when they face the Oilers in Edmonton. Ice is just better in Alberta, in part because of climate (cold!), and in part because of the smaller volume of events. Elsewhere, such events (read: basketball, indoor lacrosse, other ice shows) cause the ice to take a beating.

Taylor vs. Tyler Get out the big bucket of popcorn (extra butter, light salt) for tonight’s Taylor Hall-vs.-Tyler Seguin matchup in Edmonton. Thus far, the former has outplayed the latter, but Hall also has been fed more ice time and is slotted regularly into power-play duty. We’ve barely seen the cellophane wrap pulled off Seguin.

The Kessel run Sensational game-winning goal by Phil Kessel vs. the Islanders with 4:21 left in regulation Tuesday night. The one-time Bruins wunderkind looked Pavel Bure-like as he wound up in his own end, rushed up the left side, cut to the middle, and fired in the winner from the slot with four Islanders backing off because of his speed. His dynamic best. After a miserable drought (14 games/no goals), Kessel’s strike vs. the Islanders was his fourth goal in four games. Will ex-Bruins prospect Joe Colborne turn out to be his long-sought setup guy? Kessel followed two nights later with an impressive 2-2—4 vs. the Habs.

Star for sale Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk finally made public last week that he was open to discussions about trading free-agent-to-be Brad Richards. Look for Leafs GM Brian Burke to be aggressive in the bidding. He is holding a pair of first-round picks this year (Boston, Philadelphia) and the 6-5 Colborne. Richards is precisely the kind of foundation piece the Blue-and-White need up front. But Richards, if he is traded, may be of little use right away. As of late in the week, he still suffered from concussion-like symptoms in the wake of a Feb. 13 hit delivered by Boston short-timer Sami “We Hardly Knew Ye’’ Pahlsson.

Loose pucks Tough to imagine the Wild remaining in the race out West now that star pivot Mikko Koivu is expected to miss a month or more with a fractured left index finger . . . Had the Bruins been able to dump Michael Ryder ($4 million), how many Boston fans would have been OK with bringing in all-world talent Alexei Kovalev ($5 million) as gunner in residence? On Thursday, the Senators flipped the 38-year-old Kovalev back to Pittsburgh, where he was last seen in 2002-03, for a conditional draft pick. Earlier in the day, the Penguins announced they’ll be without shutdown defender Brooks Orpik (broken finger) for 4-6 weeks . . . Rumors have ex-Bruin Dancin’ Anson Carter, now living in Atlanta, as part of a group interested in buying the Thrashers. Long interested in a career in the music industry, Carter, 36, wrapped up his hockey days with Lugano (Switzerland) in 2007-08. Another ex-Bruin, Landon “Of the Lost’’ Wilson, played for that same club that season . . . The Sharks have had a surge of late, and they’ve done it with stout defense from the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley. Who knew? Better question, who believes they’ll play that way in the Second Season? . . . Waste of Talent 101: Nikolai Zherdev, waived last week by the Flyers. Just a guy who can’t seem to get his square peg in the round hole. He should be not just a player, but a P-L-A-Y-E-R. The Blue Jackets, Rangers, and Flyers would agree on that . . . If you took Ray Bourque and sliced him right down the middle, one half would be Zdeno Chara and the other half Tomas Kaberle. And even that might not be giving Bourque enough credit . . . Your faithful puck chronicler began his career Feb. 28, 1973, 38 years ago tomorrow night, as a copy boy on the Globe sports desk as an emergency fill-in (Ken Hughes placed on injured reserve). Fellow “nighthawks’’ that spring included Mike Lupica and Bob Neumeier. Upon arriving for my shift, 6 p.m.-2 a.m., I found a note from then-sports editor Ernie Roberts, which included my name and phone number, with two words scribbled in red grease marker: “Last Resort.’’

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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