TORONTO (CP) --The deal was done a month ago but Bryan McCabe had bigger things on his mind than signing on the dotted line.
His wife Roberta wasn't well back home on Long Island, so hockey had to be shelved while she recovered. In the meantime, the star defenceman had to stomach rumours out of Toronto that he was getting cold feet on the Maple Leafs because his wife didn't want to come back to the city.
|McCabe and the Leafs are happy he will be in Toronto for the long term. |
(Graig Abel Photography)
It drove him crazy.
"It was very stressful,'' McCabe said Thursday before boarding a flight back to Long Island. "Everybody was speculating. It's tough because it's some serious personal stuff and it's really not anyone's business. My wife doesn't want to be in the paper. It was disappointing.
"But I guess when you live in a hockey market that's the way it is. Thank God everything is all right and she's on the road to recovery. It's been a tough year but we're going in the right direction.''
The $28.75-million US, five-year deal McCabe finally signed Thursday was first agreed to in late May.
But the timing wasn't right.
"She had surgery scheduled for June 22, pretty major surgery,'' said McCabe. "I wanted to make sure she was all right and on the road to recovery. Some things are more important in life. The organization was great and very supportive.''
Credit Leafs GM John Ferguson, who took some heat during the delay from Leaf fans that thought McCabe was waiting to test the free-agent market.
McCabe was appreciative of Ferguson's patience, and earlier Thursday broke down in front of reporters when asked about his GM taking hits in the media because the deal stalled.
"Everyone took some hits for sure,'' McCabe said at the Leafs' alumni golf tournament. "It had nothing to do with John or my agent, it was for personal reasons. It had nothing to do with wanting to leave here. We had a deal in place and the deal didn't change. It wasn't about money. It was about timing.
"It's tough to read every day when people are ripping your family and your wife, saying she doesn't want to be here. That wasn't the case. None of you guys knew that my wife was in a walker for three months, couldn't walk after giving birth, it's been tough,'' McCabe said before breaking into tears.
A composed McCabe later said in a phone interview that it was never even close to him leaving.
"Toronto's always been my first choice,'' he said. "I love the city, I love the fans and I the organization has been nothing but first-class to me and my family. It was just a matter of timing and we got it done.''
A buddy of his may now be back for next season as well, veteran Gary Roberts asking the Florida Panthers for a trade back to Toronto this summer so he can be closer to his teenage daughter. Florida GM Mike Keenan said he would try to accommodate Roberts.
"Gary's a good friend and great teammate,'' said McCabe. "He's somebody we missed last year, definitely. He's a true Maple Leaf and a leader on and off the ice. I'd love to have him back in our locker-room.''
McCabe, meanwhile, didn't come cheap, his new $5.75-million salary making him the second-highest paid Leaf behind captain Mats Sundin's $7.6-million salary next season. McCabe's deal also includes a no-trade clause.
"The deal is very reflective of his value to us and his value in the market place,'' Leafs GM John Ferguson said Thursday.
Considering fellow free-agent defencemen Zdeno Chara, Ed Jovanovski and Nick Lidstrom will all likely fetch more than $6 million in the coming days, Ferguson probably made the right deal.
Ottawa re-signed Wade Redden for 13-million US over two years.
McCabe earned $3.458 million last season when he was third among all NHL defencemen in goals with 19 and points with 68. Both were career highs.
McCabe has 95 goals and 243 assists in 781 NHL games. He previously played for the New York Islanders, who drafted him 40th overall in 1993, the Vancouver Canucks and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago traded him to Toronto in October 2000 for Alexander Karpovtsev and Toronto's fourth-round choice (Vladimir Gusev) in the 2001 entry draft.