When Bryan McCabe came to the Toronto Maple Leafs eight years ago – boy time flies, doesn’t it? – he was an erratic, error-prone defenseman whose previous team was thrilled to get him off its hands.
As the deal for McCabe becomes official, fans of the Maple Leafs probably don’t care how good or bad Mike Van Ryn is, nor are they concerned that their team spent a total of $16.3 million in exchange for two disastrous years from McCabe. Many are thinking, “Good riddance and don’t let the door hit you on the behind on the way out.”
Now wouldn’t the Maple Leafs' humiliation in this whole thing be complete if somehow McCabe were able to rehabilitate himself in Florida the way he did after he came to Toronto? Is it even possible that could happen?
One would think so, but it’s not likely for a couple of reasons. Probably the best the Panthers can hope is that McCabe becomes a guy who scores the occasional goal and chips pucks off the glass without getting his team into too much trouble at his own end.
From this corner, McCabe is a beaten man and he now knows it. Any of his tendencies for freelancing have been sucked out of his game and McCabe probably realizes his best chance for survival is to just try and be a good soldier and fade into the background.
And that’s a bit of a shame because if McCabe were given the right direction and some freedom to create with a responsible defense partner who could cover his errors, the team that employs him might be able to see flashes of what McCabe once was.
Think about it. McCabe had the best years of his career playing for Pat Quinn and Rick Ley, neither one of whom is real big on structure. They simply allowed McCabe to play to his strengths and it resulted in seasons of 53 and 68 points (After one practice, former Leaf Ric Jackman was particularly down on himself after being ragged on by both Quinn and Ley. McCabe went to him, patted his knee and said, “Ricky, in one ear and out the other.” That was the kind of attitude McCabe was allowed to have in the Quinn-Ley regime).
On the downside, it also resulted in McCabe being signed to a ridiculous contract that was almost impossible for him to justify from the beginning.
Once Paul Maurice came onto the scene in Toronto, almost everything changed. Maurice was the anti-Quinn, a guy who seemingly had a system for how guys tied their skates, and McCabe’s game went down the sinkhole. And it’s not likely to change in Florida under Peter DeBoer, a first-time NHL coach who will be eager to make his mark by instilling discipline and accountability into the young Panthers.
What McCabe needs in his career most is the freedom to roam and a coach who’s willing to put up with his mistakes in exchange for his offense. It certainly doesn’t help McCabe that his big shot has effectively been taken away from him by players who are so well protected that nobody is afraid to throw their bodies in front of a slapshot anymore.
So, alas, it will likely be more of the same from McCabe. Now he’ll just be able to play the next three seasons in anonymity. To be certain, the Maple Leafs and their fans won’t have Bryan McCabe to kick around anymore.
Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog normally appears Tuesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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