Kaberle/By S. Bradley

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli told the assembled media in Minneapolis today that he’s already held an initial meeting with agent Rick Curran to discuss his client Tomas Kaberle.

So far it’s been difficult to gauge Chiarelli’s enthusiasm level for bringing back the defenseman who cost the Bruins a top prospect and two high draft picks last February and then struggled to get comfortable in a Boston uniform.

In past years, Chiarelli hasn’t been shy about getting deals done with his restricted and unrestricted free agents well in advance of the market opening. But this is a different situation, obviously, with the Bruins having played up to June 15 in order to win the Stanley Cup. And Kaberle is probably the weirdest case yet for Chiarelli because you can make the case that he’s the first in-season acquisition that stayed healthy but didn’t live up to expectations.

Now that’s a Cup-champion general manager, Chiarelli certainly doesn’t need any advice from this blog. But if I was in Chiarelli’s seat, I’d get a deal done with Kaberle and keep my championship D corps together for a full season.

Many of you just rolled your eyes or whacked yourself in the head – maybe you even closed your browser or sent a virus to this site – after reading that declaration. Kaberle certainly had his faults during his four months in black and gold and earned his share of Bruins-backing detractors. That doesn’t mean that he’s a terrible player or he’s destined to play in the future the way he sometimes stumbled in his first Bruins stint.

It’s widely believed that Kaberle will have to take a pay cut into the $3 to $3.5 million range. This might not be completely true considering his track record and the ever-thinning pool of comparable puck-moving defensemen headed toward the open market. The pool was already thin before Andrei Markov and Kevin Bieksa were reportedly closing in on new deals without testing the waters. Combined with the increase in the salary cap, the thin pool might make Kaberle a more coveted asset than those who watched the Bruins’ run to the Cup would believe.

Nonetheless, I wouldn’t pay Kaberle more than $3.5 million. Chiarelli can fit him in at that amount without hurting his ability to upgrade the team or keep around a rookie or two next season without the performance-bonus cushion. Maybe Kaberle would be willing to take a “hometown discount” considering that other than Toronto, Boston was the only other place he wanted to play the last couple seasons when he was deciding whether to waive his no-trade clause. Publicly he said he still wants to stay here, so if he’s to be taken at his word, maybe he’d trade location and term for the riches he might get elsewhere.

Now you’re reading this and still screaming at the screen that at any price more than minimum wage you don’t want to see Kaberle back. He didn’t save the power play, was lackadaisical in his own end at times and lacked any sign of physicality.

Well, those things are mostly true. But I still think the reasons to keep Kaberle outweigh the reasons to let him walk, if the price is right. You start with that thin pool of replacements. After watching seven games against Vancouver, do you want the Bruins to sign Sami Salo or Christian Ehrhoff or even Bieksa? James Wisniewski has suddenly become popular among Bruins fans. He has some offensive upside but his decision-making and defensive lapses would surely make head coach Claude Julien tear his hair out if the Cup championship made him grow any.

The only legitimate game-changer headed to the free-agent market is Joni Pitkanen. He personifies all the tools you want in a “PMD” and he’s in the prime of his career. He’s also going to be looking for more than the $4 million he was making with Carolina. If you want to commit somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million per season – for who knows how many seasons in this era of the lifetime contract – to a player who’s known for his lapses and lulls over the course of 82 games, you obviously do not subscribe to the same team-building philosophies as Chiarelli.

So now back to Kaberle. While the power play didn’t become a world-beater, it certainly improved over the course of the Cup Final and even in the Tampa Bay series. Front and center was Kaberle, with his fearless passes along the blue line and uncanny ability to keep pucks in regardless of how high off the ice they are or which side of him they were headed toward.

Blaming Kaberle for the power-play woes is like blaming a pitcher with an ERA under 2.00 for going 1-10 with no run support. The Bruins’ would-be finishers – Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, et al. – are just as to blame. And what about would-be playmaker David Krejci? Working the half wall most of the season, the center was just as unproductive on the power play as Kaberle.

At even strength, even when he was struggling, Kaberle was able to keep defenses on their heels with his ability to move the puck far and move it quick. Subtly he provided the Bruins with what they got him for, even if you couldn’t quantify it on the score sheet. He sacrificed his body to block shots when the stakes were raised, even if he hit as rarely as Tyler Seguin.

Imagine Kaberle with a full training camp and exhibition season to get used to Julien’s system and play with a consistent partner (maybe even Zdeno Chara). Imagine him settling into the city instead of learning a new town after his first NHL trade in the midst of a season. Accept the fact that even if he made some gaffes out on the ice, he didn’t commit more than any other blue liner (except maybe Dennis Seidenberg) in a Bruins sweater, and he just took more flak for his errors because of the hype surrounding him when he got here and his salary.

By all accounts, Kaberle was a positive influence in the locker room, and it couldn’t hurt to have him around to help raise future “PMDs” Steven Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski.

Bet you didn’t believe there could be so many reasons to keep Tomas Kaberle. Well, there you have them all. And if Chiarelli is really interested in making Kaberle a long-term Bruin – a fact I’m not completely sold on based on Chiarelli’s vague comments on the matter – he should get the deal done without fear Kaberle would be anything but a solid contributor to future Bruins clubs.