Bryan McCabe: Believe It or Not, Some of Us May Miss You

xx yySenior Writer ISeptember 2, 2008

Since last season, it seemed inevitable that Bryan McCabe's days in Toronto were numbered.

From tripping over the back of the net, to scoring on his own net against the Sabres in overtime, to breaking his hand, the former All-Star defense man and Norris Trophy candidate could do no right and everyone in Toronto wanted his head.

But more than his head, they wanted him out. They wanted him to be done with the Blue and White, and they wanted his antics to terrorize another franchise's fan base, because that, combined with his astronomical salary, had worn the patience of Leafs fans thin.

Sidenote: In all fairness, we're pretty fickle here in Toronto. There are a lot of markets where, yes they'd be pissed, but they also wouldn't jump down his throat so readily, and perhaps offer him a bit of time to redeem himself. That's not to say I wasn't one of them, but McCabe will just join a long line of stars in Toronto to get a raw deal after one or two missteps.

This morning, Leafs Nation got their wish. As with Chad Kilger and Wade Belak last season, Cliff Fletcher dealt the beleaguered blueliner to the Florida Panthers along with a fourth round pick in exchange for Mike Van Ryn—a graduate of the high school yours truly attended in London, Ontario, Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School.

Although Bryan's career has gone downhill the past few seasons in Toronto, there were still a lot of good times.

McCabe first came to Toronto in 2000 from the Chicago Blackhawks, after bouncing between the New York Islanders, the Vancouver Canucks, and the 'Hawks for the first five seasons of his career.

His initial season was fairly unimpressive. To be honest, I wasn't really aware of who the Leafs acquired in the October 2000 trade, I just new that they'd infused a bit of fresh blood on the blue line.

My naivete aside, McCabe had a fairly good year for the Leafs: He posted 29 points, and was a +16, with the future looking up as he and Tomas Kaberle combined for 74 points and a +26.

Even in the playoffs that season, McCabe and Kaberle continued to have success as in 11 games, McCabe logged five points and a +5, while Kabby had a +4 and four points in the same eleven games.

The next season got even better as McCabe tallied 17 goals and 43 points (and a +16) in a full season of work, while his strong play carried over to Toronto's deepest, and most successful Stanley Cup run in recent memory, as McCabe gathered 10 points in 20 games before the Leafs were ousted by the upstart Hurricanes.

Following a down year in 2002/03, where McCabe received some heat for not being able to match his career season of '01/'02. Many thought that McCabe fell back to Earth, and that other teams had learned to key on his powerful point shot and shut down the Leafs' burly power play threat.

McCabe quickly put that to rest though. In 77 games, McCabe found the net with his cannon of a shot once again, garnering 16 goals, while also setting up 37 others, as McCabe and Kaberle looked to be the next great pairing in recent NHL memory.

McCabe topped it off with a +22, the best rating of his career, and a nomination for that season's Norris Trophy, which he lost out on to Scott Niedermayer.

But as the lockout hit, McCabe struggled to find his game overseas, and even suffered through some injury problems, leading some to wonder how effective McCabe would be in the new NHL, where mobility and speed were supposedly the necessary assets.

Coming back from the lockout though, McCabe surprised the critics by getting even better, as his offensive production (19 goals, 49 assists, a career-high 68 points) led to a spot on the Taxi Squad on Canada's Olympic team that season.

Granted Team Canada went the way of America's Basketball "Dream Team", but a spot on the National Squad is a spot on the National Squad.

This is where it started to spiral downwards for McCabe. Because 2005/06 was his contract year, fans began assuming that the offensive outburst was just a personal attempt at earning more cash, and hindering the Leafs with wasting space in the precious cap.

Despite the qualms from Leafs fans that they could acquire other defense men for cheaper, Leafs' brass (headlined by John Ferguson Jr.) kept after McCabe, offering him a lucrative five-year contract with a no-movement clause.

McCabe initially agreed to a $28.75 million contract over five years, but the only thing missing on it was his signature.

There were rumors of McCabe longing to return to Long Island, where his NHL roots began growing, and where he and his wife Roberta owned a home, and where either the New York Rangers or New York Islanders could provide McCabe with the opportunity to play close to his family.

There were rumors that he had suddenly got cold feet with the Leafs, and questioned what he could receive on the open market.

This was the first time that McCabe had been met with such a backlash, and boy was it undeserved.

As May turned to June, and free agency approached, the mumbles and grumbles turned to yells for McCabe head. But then, the truth came out. His wife Roberta, had been suffering for months on end, due to complications of the birth of their daughter, and days before free agency opened, she was scheduled for surgery.

As any loving husband should be, McCabe was concerned for her first and foremost.

But wife's health or not, it seemed that the hesitation McCabe had about signing his contract was spelling the end to his Toronto career. The following year, he posted 57 points, but he just didn't seem to be the same player he was before that summer.

And everything culminated this season, as McCabe missed more than 10 games for the first time in his Maple Leafs career, suffered through the aforementioned gaffes, and only potted 23 points.

The strange thing though, is that this entire scenario has let the Maple Leafs come full circle. Back in 2000, they dealt Alexander Karpotsev and a fourth round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for McCabe.

This year? The 33 year-old McCabe was packaged with a fourth round pick for Mike Van Ryn. Granted he's no youngster as he'll be 30 by the start of next season, but still it's kind of strange in a way to acquire a semi-unknown for a guy who put himself back on the map in Toronto.

But without that extra $1 million over the next three seasons, the Leafs free up some much-needed cap space, rid themselves of another No-Movement Clause, and eliminate the unnecessary headaches that keeping McCabe—production or not—would have caused.

But Florida is getting something special. Whether he scores 20 goals for them or not, McCabe will bring his all, and he'll be committed.

Since he signed back in 2006, his stance has never changed, as he's always brought the attitude of "if I sign here, that means I want to be here". Unfortunately, we didn't want a guy who couldn't have imagined life without Tomas Kaberle, Chris Pronger or not.

So Bryan, best of luck in the future. Just don't laugh too hard if the Panthers eek their way into the playoffs before the Leafs.

Oh, and bring the Mohawk back. I'm sure more than a few of us miss it.

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you'd like to get in contact with him, you can do so through Bryan's profile, and you can read his previous work in his archives.


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