Ah yes, the 2007/08 Leafs season. The team started a spectacularly bad 0-7-1. They didn’t finish much better, with only a late season push stopping them from being in the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes (they ended up with the 7th pick, and traded up to select Luke Schenn). Big name signing Jason Blake dropped from 40 goals to 15, Darcy Tucker had a poor first year in his soon to be bought-out extension, and Vesa Toskala’s 0.904 SV% was considered a positive based on the alternatives.
But perhaps the biggest story was Bryan McCabe. On year two of a 5 year deal with a 5.75 million dollar cap hit, people were skeptical that he’d live up to the expectations he had created with a 68 point year in 2005/06. And then, this happened:
Fans everywhere where irate. A year or so in to the deal, ad that was already the the last straw. He had to go. The Toronto Sun did a piece on a teenager who created a website, fittingly titled McCabeSucks.com. Lets apply some modern thinking to this moment in Leafs (fan/media) infamy. Because this is a 15 year old from 2007 I’m going to black out the name.
For 15-year-old ██ █████, there are many reasons Bryan McCabe sucks.There was that Dec. 29 game last year when the Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman left the puck behind the net for Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal to score a goal. Then came February, when McCabe was leading the NHL in giveaways. But what spurred █████ to post the website McCabeSucks.com came last month, when McCabe scored the overtime goal against the Buffalo Sabres on his own net, winning the game for the wrong team.
Where do I start with this?
- Cherry picking mistakes by players is all well and good, but misses the long term effect they make on a play. This is an issue that Dion Phaneuf has right now. Like McCabe, he plays a style of defence that’s incredibly quiet when it’s effective at shutting down the opposition. Sometimes, he can be loud with a hit, or a goal. But he’s at his loudest when he makes a mistake, making it the best memory you have of him.
- Giveaways are a flawed statistic to point out as a pure negative. The reality is, to give away the puck, you must have it at some point. You’d obviously prefer it goes to your recipient, but any player that is active and involved with the play will be near the top of the charts. If you look at the top 20 among defencemen, it’s full of Hall of Famers, or good defencemen in their primes. This year’s list features some of the best defencemen in hockey near the top.
- Further to that point, let’s look at 2007/08, the earliest year for almost any advanced statistics. Bryan McCabe’s most frequent linemates are the struggling Jason Blake and the still developing Matt Stajan and Alex Steen. Is it any wonder that these guys weren’t picking up on a lot of his plays?
“I put up the site a few minutes after that because I was just fed up at that point,” the Grade 11 student at York Memorial Collegiate Institute said yesterday. “He’s the highest paid player on the team, but he definitely isn’t near the best on the team.” █████’s website has since grown in popularity, with the number of unique visitors spiking every time McCabe blunders.
Just because you have the highest cap hit on a roster doesn’t necessarily mean that the player has to be your best. In the Leafs’ case, Mats Sundin was a veteran on a discount 1 year deal, and Tomas Kaberle was signed way below market value. Jason Blake took a contract that was a steal in his good years and evened out in his bad, and Pavel Kubina took less money to sign in Toronto. This team’s core players were all special situations; McCabe was signed in his prime, just before guys like Wade Redden and Brian Campbell started to push $7M.
In addition to a McCabe photo caption contest, McCabe videos and polls — including, “Would you take a McCabe for Kovalev Deal,” “Is it right to boo your own player (even if it’s McCabe),” and “Does Bryan McCabe suck?” — █████’s site includes a petition to, among many things, bench the scorned player if he can’t be traded.
A caption contest? Polls? What is this, Twitter? Was it even a contest? Did you give out prizes? That’s not the important part, in any event.
- McCabe for Kovalev? Are you sure about that? Yes, Kovalev is having his best year in ges, but he also has a 15.2% shooting percentage. He’s been a good possession player this year (you’ll understand these terms in a few years, kid), but his team is shooting at an unsustainable 11% when he’s on the ice, while getting good goaltending support from Cristobal Huet. Not to mention that he’s 34. Even if he keeps himself committed, which has always been a flaw, he’s going to taper off soon.
- It’s never right to boo your own player, unless he starts legitimate attacking the fanbase. I get the post-departure booing of Vince Carter after he admitted he “gave up” on the Raptors. But for disappointing? Like I said about Tyler Bozak, it’s not the fault of the player if you’re not happy with his contract-relative performance. That’s something you look at management for. Even if McCabe was as flawed as this kid says he is, that’s an example you use when arguing for John Ferguson Jr’s departure.
- Also, you can pick a better choice of words than “sucks”. Say he must go. Say he’s a disappointment. Sucks just makes you sound like the bratty teenager you are.
“He swears on television, he shoots at his own net, he gives away the puck, and also somehow is incredibly rich,” the petition reads before calling on the hockey club’s administration to “please find a way to get rid of this guy.”
“Bryan, we don’t really hate you that much,” the petition adds. “But what happened to old times? … Just play like you used to and we won’t be upset any more.”
“If I met him, I wouldn’t be yelling at him or anything,” said █████, a hardcore Leafs fan who said he remembers watching the 1993 playoff round — when he was just a year old.
“He probably isn’t that bad of a person. I just think he’s overrated and he doesn’t deserve the cash that he’s getting.”
- Slipping up and dropping a curse word in a scrum once doesn’t make you someone who swears on Television. This is nit-picky anyway – we all thought Jonathan “Look at this f***ing team” Quick was awesome in 2012, after all, and thought it was hilarious later in 2008 when Mats Sundin said “oh.. f**k, no” in response to the rumours he would be traded to Montreal.
- Same goes for the own goal. It happened, but it was an attempted clear to the boards that went wrong. He’s probably made that same play about a thousand times successfully over his professional career.
- He’s incredibly rich because the National Hockey League brings in a lot of income from it’s players, and he was in the upper echelon of those players that they “sell” to the fans, and as such, deserves a cut. People are paying to see the best players in the world and the worst player in the NHL is probably one of the top 1500 or so active hockey players on the planet. He was far from the worst, and got his handsome paycheque as a result.
- It’s hard to tell specifically with a lot of today’s statistics not being around to comb through his prior years, but I have a feeling that there was less of a change of old times and more availability of high and lowlights on Youtube. McCabe got through this “trainwreck” year with decent production, positive possession, while facing a slightly above average quality of competition. Though, to be fair, he also had the best on-ice save percentage on the team (0.923 which would be 16th for guys who have played 25+ games on the Leafs this year, by the way). Upon leaving, he put up steady numbers in sheltered situations with the Panthers and Rangers. I have to imagine he’d look good in his prime.
- Again, “overrated” and “undeserving” are things to criticize the management for, not the player.
- By the way, there’s no way in hell you remember 1993. You’re probably just saying that because you know it makes them more likely to print the whole piece, for nostalgic reasons.
Of those who visit █████’s site, most agree with his point of view. But some don’t. And he’s fine with that. “I don’t necessarily want them to think that he’s the worst player ever,” he said.
He was far from it. Nobody will deny that 2005/06, a year where the game opened up drastically and his point shot was lethal, was his peak. But the Leafs had bigger fish to fry, and while that own goal was a loud enough statement to make you put this website together, it was a minor blip in a solid career.
The run out of town version of Bryan McCabe was probably better than we gave him credit for. Even as he tapered off, he still contributed elsewhere for several years in a solid manner.
The Leafs needed a rethinking of their organization from top to bottom (which Cliff Fletcher 2.0 and Brian Burke provided to an extent) for a chance at long term success, and in the short term, their goaltending was AWFUL. Even with recent poor performance’s considered, the 13/14 Leafs’ SV% of 0.919 would have shaved off 54 goals from that team, bringing them from 25th to 6th in the NHL in goal differential. If not management, that was your scapegoat, not one of your better defencemen.
Where Are They Now
- Bryan McCabe was eventually traded to the Florida Panthers, where he got to put in a couple of unspectacular but solid seasons with the Panthers before being rented out to the New York Rangers, upon which he retired. He’s now a manager of player development for the Panthers, responsible for mentoring drafted prospects.
- Tamara Cherry, the woman who wrote this page-3 piece in the Sun, is now a Crime Reporter for CTV Toronto.
- Should I reveal who ██ █████ is? I mean, on one hand, it’s protecting a teenager, but on the other hand, is anybody really going to go after him after something he said seven years ago?
- I’m just screwing with you. I blocked out the name for suspense. ██ █████ was actually me. Shut up, 15 year old Jeffler. The end result of this site was a bunch of signatures on a stupid petition and many death threats.
- The book is still out on the not-yet-mentioned “Leave Bryan McCabe Alone” guy
A Conversation With Bryan
It was a cold day in Detroit. Armed with Comerica Park and Michigan Stadium credentials, I headed down for the Winter Classic festivities (which were incredibly well done at every level, I should add). Upon getting to Comerica for the Marlies/Griffins game, I noticed the alumni players coming out for a practice of sorts. One of them? Bryan McCabe.
So I figured I’d speak to him the next day after the game. It worked out pretty well; the Leafs may have lost in a shootout, but McCabe was the one who tied the game with just seconds to go. Not bad for somebody who claims to have skated just two times in the past three years. “Not gonna lie, that felt good.”, he said. “It was a close game, it was nice to come back. We all have that competitive spirit, regardless of whether it’s an alumni game or not.”.
That’s the thing. Like I mentioned above, these guys are always trying their very best to succeed, because the game is a higher priority than the windfall that could come out of it. “Regardless of what the contract said, I played hard because I loved it, not for money. It’s a special game, and we’re very fortunate people to be able to do something you love and get paid for it.”.
I brought up the parallels between him and Dion Phaneuf. After all, they both play a similar game, and Dion’s new deal was essentially confirmed that day. McCabe’s feelings were nothing but support. “He’s been here for a few years and understands what comes with the territory. He handles himself very well for that market.”. He had good things to say about the current team as well. “They’ve got a lot of good guys on that team. It’s a great organization to play for, and I’m wishing nothing but the best for them and the fans, and maybe some day they’ll get a cup again.”.
I also brought up my theory that we’d see him in a more positive light if the average outsider had today’s understanding of statistics. He wasn’t too concerned about it either way. “It was one bad year where things went south a little bit. I wouldn’t trade my time in Toronto for anything, and it was a great time in my life. I think that the market picks a few guys every year, it’s just the way it is.”
We talked a bit about the festivities (it’s a little late for those quotes now, but he loved the event), and if he’d be down for one of Alumni events again (he is, so watch out if BMO Field 2017 happens). But I had one more thing to bring up.
I mentioned that I was the person that ran the McCabe Sucks website all those years ago, hence my prior questions, and apologized for it’s creation in hindsight. “It’s no big deal. I mean, you score one goal on your own net in overtime, and suddenly, you’re the bad guy!” was the response, with a laugh, an accepted apology, and a handshake.
How true that was. I headed back to my hotel, realizing that this was probably the best example of how my perspective and understanding of the sport, along with my actual involvement, had undergone a massive transformation over the years.