So Much Hate In LeafsNation—But For Whom?

Nelson SantosCorrespondent ISeptember 2, 2008

Bryan McCabe and a fourth round draft pick have officially been dealt to the Florida Panthers for Mike Van Ryn. This move has long been awaited by Toronto Maple Leafs fans. Gone is McCabe, his giant contract, and his ever-embarrassing gaffes. Things couldn't be better right now in Leaf-Land. Or could they?

One of the longest standing traditions in Toronto has been the "Whipping Boy"—the player the city loves to hate. The player who's minor error during a game to make the score 7-1 is blamed for the loss outright - the player every fan uses negatively to support their argument for the player on the Leafs they think is best.

For the last couple of seasons I have thought McCabe has gotten away with robbery, collecting all that money annually for playing so poorly. But alas, I was wrong. That salary he collected was not earned in points or on ice performance, but instead by how he could get up every morning and come to the rink to answer mindless questions from the media or the anticipation of being the "reason" the Leafs lost another game.

In Florida, McCabe will probably walk the streets unrecognized. There will be very little media attention to his gaffes, whether minor or major. Oddly enough, if his play doesn't improve drastically from his last couple of seasons, Florida will really be over-paying him for his services.

The only question remaining now, with just over five weeks to go before the puck is dropped on the 2008-09 season, is who will be the player Maple Leafs fans will all love to hate?

Jason Blake is a good candidate. Early last season, while struggling to put anything in the net, he was on the brink of making McCabe's life much easier, if not for the news of his illness. However, having played all 82 games last season, won't help his cause this time around. If Blake struggles again, then his $4 Million annual salary will be the talk of the town.

I sure hope he has a thick skin if he can't find his soft hands.

Pavel Kubina is another quality candidate—another Maple Leafs player with a hefty price tag that came nowhere close to earning it last season. His attitude with the media doesn't endear him any further to fans, either. His refusal to waive his NTC last season at the deadline still has some Leafs fans with a bad taste in their mouths.

You just know many of the haters will be keeping a close eye on Kubina when this season gets underway.

Nik Antropov, fresh off his career best season which finally got him out of "Whipping Boy" territory, could find himself right back in the teeth of LeafsHateNation. But it won't be his fault.

He can thank Mats Sundin for getting him in that mess. With Sundin fishing in Sweden, Antropov will be counted on to do the scoring. Leaf fans won't look at his personal best to cut him slack. They'll expect Sundin-like numbers. Antropov may be in for a battle he can't win.

The final two players are in the same boat. They have both been the future for the Leafs the last four seasons. Both players have made nice strides in their development over that time, but neither player has evolved as Maple Leafs fans had hoped (I fear neither is capable of attaining that level of evolution).

Again, with the departure of Sundin, as well as Tucker and Wellwood, Alexander Steen and Matt Stajan will both need to have career seasons to not only help the Maple Leafs compete in the Eastern Conference but to save themselves from the position of "Whipping Boy."