If there is anything Frantisek Kaberle and Tom Barrasso have in common, it was that they were both underestimated during their time with the Hurricanes.
Both were in the news Tuesday, Kaberle because the Hurricanes bought out his contract and Barrasso for his induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Kaberle was a key member of the 2006 championship team whose performance declined after scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal, mostly because of a shoulder injury he suffered during the playoffs. The past two years, he was often a whipping boy for fans who couldn't understand why he was playing instead of Dennis Seidenberg or Anton Babchuk.
The answer was that Kaberle played a quiet, steady game that wasn't always flashy or physical, but kept a coach's mind calm. Both Seidenberg and Babchuk would dazzle fans with big hits or big goals, but they would also do things that could drive a coach to drink.
In the end, Kaberle's declining offensive production made him less and less valuable, but even as his playing time declined, he never voiced any unhappiness publicly. He was a good soldier and a good teammate, and at 35 his best is behind him but at least he delievered for the Hurricanes at a time when they desperately needed it.
Going into that 2005-06 season, Carolina's defense was riddled with questions, from the health of aging veterans like Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican to the ability of unknowns like Kaberle, Mike Commodore and Andrew Hutchinson. After an unimpressive training camp, Kaberle was a healthy scratch on Opening Night but he quickly became a fixture on the power play, posted career-best offensive totals and was surprisingly reliable in his own end.
He was never the same after shoulder surgery, but his contributions to that 2006 team were significant. They should not be forgotten.
As for Barrasso, induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame may be as far as he'll get. His work as an NHL goaltender -- a Vezina Trophy, a Calder Trophy, a silver medal at the Olympics and two Stanley Cups, all after jumping straight from Massachusetts high school hockey into the NHL -- warrants admission into the Hockey Hall of Fame, but his nationality (sadly, Americans still get short shrift from the Canada-centric HOF) and his legendary cantankerousness with the media will conspire against him. And while his time with the Hurricanes doesn't rank high on his resume, it bears remembering.
He had been traded to Toronto by the time the Hurricanes made their run in the 2002 playoffs, supplanted by Kevin Weekes after his arrival, but Barrasso carried the Canes through the first half of the season, playing his way onto the U.S. Olympic team. Like Kaberle, his contributions to a remarkable season should not be overlooked.
Oddly enough, Barrasso has been nothing but approachable during his time in Carolina, as a player, as a member of the front office and now as a coach. He had some prickly moments with the media after a few games, but they were rare. For the most part, anyone who knew him only with the Hurricanes would be baffled by the low-grade hate he generated among the media earlier in his career, particularly in Pittsburgh. But people change, for reasons that are their own, and Barrasso deserves credit for his affability here.
If he had cultivated the same relationship with the media earlier in his career that he has here, his Hall of Fame prospects might be quite a bit better (unlike baseball, where the media votes on the Hall, the Hockey HOF has a selection committee that's an old-boys-club from past generations, but Barrasso's reputation will hurt him with that group nonetheless, given the four-player-per-year limit).
As it is, it's appropriate that the U.S. Hall of Fame has recognized him, because he was a trailblazer for American prospects (and goalies in general) at the top of the draft, and players like Patrick Kane and Erik Johnson owe a debt of gratitude to Barrasso.
So do Hurricanes fans, for his work in 2002, and the same can be said of Kaberle, for his work in 2006 and his professionalism since.