Thursday, January 7, 2010

I Love You, McCabe

bryan mccabe handlebar moustache
I’m a hater. Big time. It’s already well documented in the brief history of this website. I also hate pickles, incorrect use of there/their/they’re, and tennis. I do not hate Bryan McCabe. Neither should you. Booing McCabe’s returns to Toronto is ignorant.

Here’s a man who did everything he possibly could have as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs and is now hated unconditionally. Cheering the return of Darcy Tucker, while simultaneously condemning McCabe’s is hypocritical.

Hating on Bryan McCabe by Leafs fans is reminiscent to the treatment former Leaf Larry Murphy received during his brief tenure in Toronto. Murphy was booed mercilessly. He was unfortunate enough to be the highest paid Leaf player on a bad team. The boos were unjustified because the man scored 61 points and was only a -2 in his first year as a Leaf and then scored 39 points his second year before being traded to the Red Wings after 69 games. What made Leafs Nation’s decision to boo Murphy even worse was that the future Hall-of-Famer became an integral part of two consecutive Detroit championship teams. Murphy was basically a scapegoat for the Leafs dismal play, much like McCabe would become ten years later.

Bryan McCabe was not a bad player when he played for the Leafs and he is certainly proving in Florida that he is not a bad player now. Unfortunately for McCabe, he was perceived by fans as the major problem of the JFJ era. This isn’t correct. He certainly was a part of the problem, but that’s not really his fault. Bryan McCabe personified MLSE’s control over the team and received hatred as a consequence, even if fans didn’t realize that’s why they were booing him.

Sure he scored on his own goal against Buffalo and fans jumped all over him without hesitation, but if this was done by Tomas Kaberle he would be immediately forgiven. For the most part McCabe’s career with Toronto was a success. First, his pre-lockout stats are unexpected. Really. McCabe’s first four years in Toronto were impressive. 44 goals, 105 assists (149 points), and a + 63. In 2003-2004 McCabe scored 16 goals, 53 points and was + 22. + 22! He wasn’t necessarily a number one defenceman, but his numbers suggest he was worthy of being a top-pairing player. An actual defenceman! McCabe was physical and even fought on occasion (before Chara killed him – a video I will never link to). Of course the pre-lockout allowed McCabe to get away with his patented can-opener. Upon my father's suggestion I utilized this manoeuvre for one memorable game that I mainly watched from the penalty box. I guess house league refs were ahead of their time.

After the lockout McCabe proved that he was still an able defenceman. He hovered around 0 +/- but scored 68 points the first year after the work stoppage and 57 points in the first year of his massively inflated deal. That’s when the real problems started.

As the Leafs missed the playoffs for the second straight year people began to blame McCabe and his high-priced contract (the highest on the team). Does this sound familiar?

Anyone who has ever disparaged Bryan McCabe should look at one stat: the Leafs record with and without Bryan McCabe in the line-up. Since the lockout the Leafs are a combined 106-77-26 with McCabe (.507 winning percentage) and 11-22-4 without McCabe (.297 winning percentage). I think those numbers reflect his importance to the team. These numbers become even more interesting if we look year by year. In 2005-2006 the Leafs miss the playoffs by 2 points. Bryan McCabe is injured in Edmonton during the middle of the season and the Leafs go 1-7-1 without him (which includes 8 losses in a row). With McCabe in the line-up the Leafs were on pace for 97 points and the seventh seed in the Eastern conference. McCabe plays the entire 2006-2007 season and the Leafs miss the playoffs by one point (fuck you Wade Dubielewicz!). 2007-2008 (tank nation slowly developing) saw the Leafs skate to a fairly impressive (for a shitty team) 26-20-8 record with McCabe playing and a brutal 10-15-3 record without. The Leafs missed the playoffs by 11 points, but the projected point total with McCabe playing would have the Leafs miss by only 4. And that was the worst team of all three and it didn’t even have Jason Allison! It was terrible!

Was Bryan McCabe worth $5.75 million per year? Obviously not. The Leafs should have traded him at the deadline of his 68 point season, but MLSE would have had a conniption. JFJ wasn’t allowed to re-build the Leafs and was forced by ownership into a series of dumb moves that set the franchise back considerably. MLSE didn’t trade Tukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft (that was all JFJ’s stupidity), but they didn’t really give him many options. Because MLSE’s insistence on creating an immediate winner (impossible you idiots – stick to building condos) JFJ needed to keep McCabe and that meant signing that ridiculous deal. Do you think JFJ just said yes to the first offer he received? Did McCabe’s agent send out an offer to get a sense of the Leafs expectations and then found out it was readily accepted. Did Jason Blake even need an agent to get his ridiculous contract? Will JFJ ever find peace of mind? These things keep me up at night.

Although McCabe is overpaid he is still providing Florida with reasonable production and valuable leadership. He also finds sticking it to Toronto particularly refreshing (3 goals 2 assists in 6 games).

If nothing I have said compels you to reduce your hate for Bryan McCabe then you should remember that he was the only member of the Muskoka Five that actually waived his no trade clause (eventually). Also, remember that the Leafs hosed the Black Hawks in the Bryan McCabe trade. Alexander Karpovtsev and a 4th for McCabe. Remember when Leafs GMs actually won trades?

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