The Carolina Hurricanes have traded defenseman Tomas Kaberle, and general manager Jim Rutherford said he made a mistake in signing him.
The Canes on Friday sent Kaberle to the Montreal Canadiens for defenseman Jaroslav Spacek. The move came about five months after Kaberle became Carolina's biggest offseason addition, accepting a three-year, $12.75 million free-agent contract.
Kaberle, a longtime fixture in the Toronto Maple Leafs lineup and a former NHL All-Star, was traded by the Leafs to the Boston Bruins last season and was a part of the Bruins' Stanley Cup championship run. Rutherford signed him in hopes of improving the Canes' struggling power play and to add a veteran presence to the blue line.
"I should have known better," Rutherford said in an interview Friday. "Tomas is a player who has had a very good career, but I should have known better in the sense of where he was in his career. He won the Stanley Cup, he had a short summer and at the start of training camp and the start of the season he was not where he needed to be (physically).
"He has not done as well as expected, just as the team has not done as well as expected. He has played better the last couple of weeks. But to have flexibility next year without his contract is important for us."
A battered Blueline
Spacek, 37, is due to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He was placed on injured reserve Nov. 16 with an upper-body injury but was cleared Friday and was to play in the Canes' road game against the Winnipeg Jets.
Spacek was needed in the lineup with defensemen Joni Pitkanen and Jay Harrison out with upper-body injuries. Rutherford said Pitkanen, who was injured this week against the Calgary Flames, returned to Raleigh for precautionary reasons and would not play in Tuesday's game in Toronto.
Kaberle, 33, had no goals and nine assists in 29 games this season, with a minus-12 rating. He had a pair of assists in each of the Canes' last two games, setting up Jamie McBain's power-play goal Wednesday in the Canes' 5-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers.
Rutherford said his preference would have been to trade Kaberle for a forward, but said there was "not a deal out there that could be made for Kaberle."
Creating cap space
Both Spacek and Kaberle are natives of the Czech Republic. Spacek, who is being paid $3.83 million this season, was in his third year with the Habs and has played 12 games this season, with no goals and three assists.
A fifth-round draft pick by the Florida Panthers in 1998, Spacek was a teammate of Canes coach Kirk Muller with the Panthers in 1998-1999.
Muller was an assistant coach for the Canadiens the past five seasons and said Spacek "still has a competitive level in him." Rutherford said he received some input from Muller on Spacek but noted, "The bottom line was moving Kaberle's contract."
Kaberle's salary is $4 million this season. It escalates to $4.25 million and $4.5 million the next two seasons.
Team captain Eric Staal said Kaberle had been more productive in recent games but said of the trade, "It was a move Jim (Rutherford) wanted to make and did make. All we can do now is move forward and accept the new guy in Jaro (Spacek). Hopefully he will be a good fit for our team."
Rutherford also said Friday that backup goalie Brian Boucher, injured Monday in practice, might be out a couple of weeks. He said goaltender Mike Murphy, recalled Tuesday from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, likely will remain the backup in the short term.
"This gives Murphy some experience and a chance to observe what it takes to play at this level," Rutherford said.