Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thoughts on Kubina Deal

If the Thrashers felt that they were too small of a team last season, they certainly would appear to have one of the biggest top fours in the NHL with the addition of 6-foot-4 Pavel Kubina. Kubina goes with 6-2 Zach Bogosian and 6-3 Ron Hainsey and 5-10 Tobias Enstrom.
New Atlanta associate general manager Rick Dudley's fingerprints have to be all over this deal, as Dudley was general manager in Tampa Bay for several seasons while Kubina was on the team.
Kubina brings a big shot and his 17 goals in 2003-04 for Tampa (during its Stanley Cup season) tied for the league lead among all defensemen.
Over the last two seasons, Kubina posted back-to-back 40-point totals and was a plus-player in his first two seasons with the Leafs on bad teams -- both positive signs for Atlanta. The biggest challenge in using Kubina for Atlanta will be how coach John Anderson manages ice time between Kubina, 32, and defenseman Tobias Enstrom, 24, who represents the future.
The Thrashers now have something that they have never had in their history: some huge minute-munchers on the back line. To me, the most telling statistic for a defenseman, and truly players in general, is time on ice because it shows which player or players the coach has the most confidence in. If a guy is on the ice the most, there's a reason.
Last season Enstrom led the Thrashers in ice time at 23:31 and Hainsey ranked second at 22:22. Bogosian averaged 18:06, impressive for a rookie, especially considering the length of time he missed with injury. Expect his ice time to rocket upwards in Season Two.
Last season for Toronto, Kubina ranked third in average time on ice at 22:03 behind Tomas Kaberle and Ian White. Rookie Luke Schenn ranked only 31 seconds behind Kubina, which is probably what made Kubina expendable, along with his $5 million salary. Schenn is the future while Kubina represents the past as Leafs general manager Brian Burke cleans house to build his type of team.
In that sense, Garnet Exelby, once known as one of the game's premier hitters, is right up Burke's alley. The big challenge for Exelby, especially playing in Toronto under that huge microscope, will be re-establishing that reputation.
I know there had been feeling around some in the Thrashers organization for years that Exelby's physical side had slipped because of his concussion history and that he was not nearly the fearsome presence on the ice that he once was. (Leafs fans surely will talk over and over about the hit that Exelby put on Mats Sundin a few years back.)
Exelby, one of my favorite players when I covered the team, is a strong character guy and was stepping into his own as a team leader, even with his ice time ranking him as the team's No. 4 defenseman. From the comments that I read after games, he was willing to speak up, take responsibility and say when performances were not up to snuff.
But back to Enstrom. For much of the first two thirds of last season, he regressed from his strong rookie year after the team acquired Mathieu Schneider and Schneider received more minutes and more power play time. Once Schneider was traded to Montreal, however, Enstrom flourished.
Will Kubina's acquisition represent a repeat for Enstrom: High-salaried, offensively skilled defenseman reduces Enstrom's time and, as a consequence, his productivity?
Certainly, Enstrom is an enormous part of the Thrashers' future and impeding his development would not help the franchise. The biggest challenge for coach John Anderson will be managing the ice time between Kubina and Enstrom so that both produce.
There's one other possible caution for Atlanta in the deal. Could Kubina represent a replay of the signing of Jaroslav Modry? Like Kubina, Modry was a big, Czech defenseman with offensive upside who could play big minutes.
Unfortunately, what the Thrashers learned in the 2005-06 season, to their surprise, was that defensively Modry was one of those defenders who made his way in the pre-lockout NHL as an obstructionist.
When the new rules came into effect, Modry was a step (or two) too slow and often had to resort to hooking or holding which landed him far too often in the penalty box. As a result, Atlanta could not play him against other teams top offensive lines since he was too much of a liability and Modry became mostly a power play specialist, where he succeeded with 38 points. The next year, he was shipped to Dallas.
Modry was 34 when he played his first season for Atlanta. Kubina is 32. In all likelihood, Kubina is a far better skater than Modry was, has that benefit of being two years younger than Modry was, and there's no new rules to skew any analysis of his game.
But for Atlanta to be a playoff team, they'll need Kubina to return to being a plus player, which he has been three of the last five seasons but which he never was for the first six of his NHL career.
Those were mostly bad teams (although the 2002-03 Lightning were a playoff team), but they were not all that different from Atlanta has been for the last two.
How this trade works out should define the Thrashers' season.


  1. As much as I hate to see Exelby leave, this really seems like a good trade for Atlanta. If Kubina shows us that he is as good as advertised, how hard will it be to keep him here?

  2. fantastic analysis, john - excited to see you blogging.

  3. Doug, I'd say that their chance of re-signing Kubina would be about the same of any team re-signing their own unrestricted free agent (see Hossa, Marian). It mostly comes down to money and then the chance to win. If the Thrashers have a good season, Kubina is an integral part of it and they make the right offer, then I'd say they'd have a good chance of re-signing him.

  4. re: the "Kubina is Modry" theory, surely enough time has passed since the lockout to know about Kubina's game, right?

    We know what he plays like. It's not the same as Jaroslav Modry.