WILMINGTON — Chuck Kobasew was a beloved member of the Bruins, and if trading him to the Minnesota Wild Sunday was a message of dissatisfaction from management — as it was articulated by both general manager and coach in its aftermath — well, then the cannon ball shot was received loud and clear by the players on Monday morning.
The 27-year-old Kobasew stumbled out of the gate this season with only a single assist in seven games, and seemed to be an unwitting victim of a hibernating Bruins unit unable to snap out of their prolonged .500 slumber. The hard-nosed veteran and 20-goal scorer was traded for both salary cap reasons and a little bit of good-old fashioned message-sending from B’s GM Peter Chiarelli.
The B’s top decision-maker hopes that the addition of some young P-Bruins blood in Vladimir Sobotka and Brad Marchand can spark a team that’s been the very definition of lethargic for far too long this autumn. The Black and Gold have been unable to shake a funk of inconsistency to start the season, and have flashed little passion or anger in their game — aside from a revenge special against the Carolina Hurricanes. Chiarelli felt it was time to make things a tad bit uncomfortable in the B’s dressing room. Judging from the reaction of the players at practice and after the session was over, it was mission accomplished.
The B’s executive also admitted that he couldn’t have summoned Marchand and Sobotka from Providence without jettisoning Kobasew and effectively unlocking the salary cap handcuffs wrapped around the team. The reports that the team had $1.6 million in cap space prior to the deal appear to have been greatly exaggerated. The B’s couldn’t even afford to keep Sobotka in Boston to begin the season, which spurred his demotion to Providence.
“It’s a combination of a number of factors. Certainly our play has been on and off and that was part of it,” said Chiarelli, who had been in discussions with several clubs for a period two weeks. “The two guys we brought up have been playing pretty well in Providence. It also gives us a little of salary cap flexibility for this year and for next year, so it was a good time for all those things. But it was primarily based on our play.
“The fellows we brought up our young, energetic and enthusiastic, and I thought that we needed an injection of that into our lineup. It’s a little bit of [frustration]. It’s not a complete reactionary move. It’s something that addresses a lot of things. I’m not satisfied with our start. Friday night, I thought we a terrific game in all areas and then it was disappointing to see Saturday. Work is being done and we’re turning the corner a bit, but in large part on a game-to-game basis I don’t see the passion that I saw before. We have to get that back.”
Tim Thomas was a little more succinct.
“My gut feeling tells me that [the trade] is a shot across the bow. Wake up or else changes will be made,” said Thomas. “My first reaction was surprise. I guess I hadn’t been thinking along those lines of any trades at all. It’s a funny business where a guy can be a teammate for going on three years, and then he’s gone.”
The deal obviously clears Kobasew’s $2.3 million from the books both this year and next year — which could become a factor in extension talks with Marc Savard — and allows Boston much more financial flexibility moving forward. Kobasew’s cap hit was something of a luxury for a third-line grinder in this brave, new world of salary cap era hockey.
All that being said, Kobasew is another veteran leader in the B’s dressing room that has now moved on, and joins a leadership exodus that included Aaron Ward, Stephane Yelle, P.J. Axelsson, Shane Hnidy and now the veteran right winger.
The move perhaps hit closest with 23-year-old Patrice Bergeron, who has watched several great friends move on from Boston after the two-way center developed close relationships with them. First it was Marty Lapointe that mentored Bergeron and allowed the rookie to live with his family during his first NHL season. Then it was Brad Boyes after Bergeron had formed into a dynamic scoring tandem with the natural goal-scorer before his trade to the St. Louis Blues. Now it’s Bergeron’s roommate during road trips, Kobasew, that has been shipped off to a different NHL locale.
It’s all part of the pro sports business, but the move should certainly shake up the B’s locker room’s comfort level. In the view of the decision-makers, the players still seems to be daydreaming about the Stanley Cup rather than rolling up their sleeves and working toward it. Bergeron said he spoke with Kobasew on Sunday following the deal, and the gritty forward was understandably reluctant to leave his home for the last three seasons in Boston.
“You never worried about his work ethic. He was my roommate on the road too. It’s always hard to see somebody go, but it happens. It’s tough, but at the same time it’s a business,” said Bergeron. “I really wish him the best. He’s such a good guy. The type of guy you always want on your team. But with the way things were going, that’s something that’s going to happen. We just have to deal with this as a team when somebody like that has to go because of the situation.”
The Bruins have now paid a price for their sluggish seven-game start to a season filled with sky-high expectations. It’s up to the remaining Black and Gold skaters to heed the unmistakable message and act on it.