In need of a recommendation as he went through unrestricted free agency for the first time, Tomas Kaberle knew where to turn.
Once Carolina came calling for the defenseman’s services, Kaberle turned to his brother Frantisek, who won a Stanley Cup during his four-year stint with the team from 2005-2009.
“I talked to my brother who had played there before about the team and the organization and he said only good things,” said Tomas Kaberle.
“He said it’s a great place to be. We talked about the fans – you hear things around the league about how good the fans are. When he was there, I thought he was the happiest of the three teams he played for in the NHL.”
That proved enough to entice the 33-year-old, high-scoring defenseman into signing a three-year deal with Carolina on Tuesday. Kaberle said that he had other offers from around the league, including one from his former Boston Bruins team fresh off a Stanley Cup title of its own.
“I got an offer from the Bruins, but it was a little bit different than what I got from Carolina,” he said.
Had things moved more quickly for Kaberle on July 1 – he said that interested teams’ proximity to the salary cap was a stumbling block – things might have turned out differently. It wasn’t until a few days later that the Hurricanes, at the suggestion of Joe Corvo’s agent, began to explore a move that would in turn make room for Kaberle’s arrival.
“I had never been through this before with unrestricted free agency, so it was a long day for me and you have to be by your phone 24/7,” said Kaberle. “There was interest, but we knew it might take a while longer.”
Kaberle, who is working out in his native Czech Republic with new teammate Jiri Tlusty, among others, also pointed to the current makeup of the Hurricanes’ roster as a reason for the mutual interest. In particular, he mentioned Cam Ward (“Carolina has a great goalie, and you always have to start there”), captain Eric Staal and the team’s group of young players.
”I think there is a chance to do something special,” he said.
As for his personal experience, the 12-season veteran of the Toronto organization joins an ever-growing group of former Leafs in Carolina that includes Tlusty, Tim Brent, Jay Harrison and Alexei Ponikarovsky. One of his former coaches, Paul Maurice, also knows him well.
“We had a good relationship in Toronto,” said Kaberle. “He’s a great young coach, he’s passionate, loves the game and I liked playing for him.”
After spending such a long time with the Maple Leafs – prior to his late-season trade to Boston, it was the only NHL team he had ever played for dating back to his 1998-99 rookie season – Kaberle said that the experience of joining two new teams and winning a championship after a personal seven-year playoff drought was a lot to process.
“It’s kind of crazy,” he said. “After being in Toronto for so long where it was a special place and I never had a bad experience - things happen for a reason. I was happy to stay in the same place and do my best for them like I’ll do for Carolina.”
Though he’s now captured the Stanley Cup that had eluded him for so long, Kaberle said that a former teammate with the Bruins who ended up winning a few championships late in his career taught him to stay hungry.
“After you go through what I never experienced before, it was amazing and you want to do it again,” he said. “Especially with a guy like Mark Recchi who was such a good leader, he was telling everyone to enjoy every moment because you might never do it again.”
Kaberle, whose day with the Stanley Cup is scheduled for July 20, plans to take the trophy to the village in which he grew up before celebrating with a private party.