October 26, 2005
TORONTO (CP) - Bryan McCabe took the long and winding road, to be sure, but he's finally playing the role of stud defenceman many had projected for him a decade ago.
He struggled to find his way in his early years and was traded more than a penny-mining stock during a commodity boom. Mike Milbury shipped him out of Long Island, Brian Burke got rid of him in Vancouver and Mike Smith moved him out of Chicago, all within the first five years of McCabe's career.
"That's the thing,'' McCabe, 30, said Wednesday. "I bounced around for my first five years in the pros. It's tough to get comfortable and get settled in and feel confident about yourself when you're getting suitcased out every other week. It seems like I found a home here, I really enjoy Toronto, it's a great city and a great organization. It's comfortable and fun.''
|(Graig Abel Photography) |
Leafs head coach Pat Quinn was also GM at the time when he stole McCabe from the Hawks in exchange for Alexander Karpovtsev and a fourth-round pick on Oct. 2, 2000. Quinn was well aware of McCabe's history.
"He came into the league with a lot of hullabaloo when he was young,'' Quinn said Wednesday. "You get a picture of how you want to play and that picture was maybe one way and his coaches probably wanted it another way, and then finally in his own mind he's matured and made some real progress about how he wants to be as a hockey player. These are good steps he's made.''
McCabe's 10th NHL season is off to a sensational start. He's tied for the league lead in scoring with Jaromir Jagr at 15 points, but insists he's not keeping track of that.
"I really don't look at them (stats), honestly, unless you guys tell me about it,'' said McCabe, who has three goals and 12 assists. "The team is doing well and individual stuff comes with that.''
And along with his hot start came his inclusion on Hockey Canada's long list of 81 names for the Olympic team. That seems to be a bit of sore subject with McCabe, who perhaps feels he was unfairly looked over for recent Team Canada events, including the 2004 World Cup of Hockey or maybe the Olympic orientation camp in B.C. this past August.
"Obviously I was disappointed, but what's done is done,'' McCabe said. "All I can concentrate on is playing now.
"Obviously anyone would want to play for their country but it's something I'm not even worrying about anymore. I've spent too many years worrying about that stuff, too much time. Whatever happens, happens.''
McCabe, drafted 40th overall in the second round by the Islanders in 1993, had a career-high 53 points (16-37) in 75 games in 2003-04, continuing his rise to stardom. And along the way he's dropped his signature move _ the can opener _ where he put his stick between an onrushing opponent's legs and twisted it before pushing the player to the ice. He found the penalty box too often for it.
"I don't know who taught him that thing called the can opener, must be from the Western juniors because some of those kids use it,'' Quinn said. "But to me it's a poor way to defend. It should never have been in anyway, I would never teach a young man to use that.''
McCabe says he basically stopped doing it in April 2002 after Isles GM Mike Milbury complained to the league about it during the Isles-Leafs payoff series.
"I really haven't used the can opener for a couple of years since Mike Milbury showed the film in the playoffs and burned me,'' McCabe said. "I more try to use the hip check but even now it's hard to do that, you adjust to what's going on, there's not as much contact anymore.''
The Leafs aren't deep on the blue-line so Quinn is riding McCabe and his defence partner Tomas Kaberle, the pair 1-2 in the entire NHL in minutes per game at around 29:00.
McCabe says he can handle the workload, which will continue Thursday night when the Leafs play at Boston.
"I've had a year off to rest,'' he said. "I just love being out there, everyone thrives with added ice time. I enjoy it and I think Kabby does to.''
And he credits Kaberle for his early season success.
"I've very fortunate to have one of the best defenceman in the league as my partner. Tommy's great, he makes my job easy. He's such a solid guy to play with. I don't have to do anything, I just feed off of him.''
Quinn feels the pair has chemistry.
"They do work well together,'' Quinn said. "Good defence pairs sometime have a special sense together and they seem to have that.''
But as much as McCabe has contributed on the scoresheet, like the rest of his teammates he's been guilty a few times of poor defensive decisions. He sports a minus-1 rating, the only player among the top five scorers in the league with a minus rating.
And in many ways McCabe is representative of his team's play this season, lots of offence but shabby defence. The Leafs have scored the most goals in the Eastern Conference at 39 but only four teams in the conference had given up more than their 32 goals before play Wednesday. That's an area both McCabe and his teammates must improve to remain afloat in the Northeast Division this season.