Today's trade between the Nashville Predators and New York Rangers has hockey fans in both cities buzzing, as speculation abounds as to whether each team has made itself better or worse, both for this season and for years to come. I've had my say on that issue, but for the moment let's celebrate the man who played 403 games on the Nashville blueline, by reliving some of the highlights from his career in Smashville.
Punching Corey Perry, 4/14/2011
There's nothing quite like the intensity of the playoffs, is there? During the first round in 2011, in which the Predators secured their first series win as a franchise, Klein stood up for goaltender Pekka Rinne (and committed a public service) by sending Corey Perry a message that he had best keep his nose out of the Nashville crease.
Goal vs Detroit Red Wings 4/15/2012
Klein's offensive zenith came in the 2012 playoffs against Detroit, first as he (uncharacteristically) jumped into the rush and scored a huge goal in Game Three of that series:
Goal vs Detroit, 4/17/2012
As the Predators took a 3-1 lead in the series against Detroit two games later, the winning goal in that contest was one of the all-time knee slappers that you'll ever see - just watch as Martin Erat leads three Red Wings skaters (plug goaltender Jimmy Howard) Pied Piper-style into the corner, leaving Klein with the easiest of tap-ins:
Fight vs Antoine Roussel, 1/20/2014
Kevin doesn't drop the gloves often, but when he does... look out. This bout came in his last game as a Nashville Predator, and it's a doozy:
The Split 2/8 Movement
While obviously not a "highlight", this was one of the more notable episodes during Klein's Nashville career, and it speaks to the journey most blueliners take on the way to becoming reliable NHL veterans. Every defenseman has those times where things just click with one partner, and fail to click with another, and boy did the pairing of Klein with Dan Hamhuis draw criticism back in the 2009-10 campaign:
The defense pairing of Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Klein has been a lightning rod of criticism all season, due to perceived under-performance from those two as a group; while they each may be fine defensemen, as a pairing they often leave Predators fans doing the "facepalm". Just check the #split28 hashtag on Twitter for a sampling of the conversation.
During that time, Klein often became the focus of some of the most intense debates here at OTF. Was he the team's worst defenseman? Was he being criticized unfairly? Sometimes it was hard to cut through the emotion after a bad goal had been given up, and keep an eye on the big picture. Such is the life for stay-at-home defensemen, who by definition show up in more "goal against" highlights than "goal for".
The Big Contract
With just hours to go before the 2012 NHL Lockout got underway, the Predators inked Klein to a 5-year, $14.5 million contract extension, a move which appeared to establish him as part of team's veteran core for years to come. Fans grew to appreciate his personality, which came to light more often through radio shows, his Twitter feed, and the odd video feature on the team's website.
It looked like he was on his way to a long, respectable career, on track to be one of Nashville's all-time leaders in games played, if no other common statistics. Once Seth Jones dropped in the draft and shook up the depth chart like an earthquake, however, the calculus had changed and Klein's contract became more of a trade chit (cost certainty!) than a stamp of seniority and leadership.
Bon Voyage, Kleiner
It would only be fitting to let Kleiner himself have the last word:
Thanks everyone! Going to miss the friends I have made in Nashville. But a new chapter in New York.— Kevin Klein (@Realkevinklein8) January 22, 2014