The Long Goodbye

Why does it take a minute to say hello and forever to say goodbye?

The most drawn out trade in Leafs' history (I am guessing) was finally confirmed yesterday. The details (McCabe and a fourth in 2010 for Mike Van Ryn) are secondary to the fact that yet one more piece of the invisible veteran leadership (as per Ron Wilson) is gone. McCabe joins Raycroft, Wellwood, and Tucker in the cull of players that made too many excuses, didn't bring the necessary work ethic, and were deemed too poor as role models to be allowed near the incoming crop of youngsters.

While some will focus on the numbers (and the wrong ones at that) or on some sort of vendetta by Cliff the reality is that moving Bryan McCabe became necessary more for issues in the locker room than anything else. Moving McCabe gets him away from Stralman, Schenn, Colaiacovo, Kronwall, and any other Leafs' defenceman that might look at his pudgy, mohawked face and think that he is the kind of player that they want to imitate.

McCabe's arrival in Toronto via trade (for Alexander "Silent V" Karpovtsev) was brilliant move by Mike Smith. He had bounced around from the Island to the Canucks to the Blackhawks before finding a home in Toronto. Until the lockout it looked like McCabe was going to anchor the Leafs' defence for years to come. Unfortunately, it turned out that he would be the anchor on the Leafs' for years to come until yesterday when Cliff made a trade to end McCabe's stint with the club one month short of eight years.

The decline of Bryan McCabe has been scientifically traced to two seminal events. The first was his fight with Zdeno Chara (video) and the elimination of the can opener as a valid defensive play. The emasculation of McCabe made him a tentative defender and the loss of his signature move took away the one thing that helped him compensate for his indecisiveness. From that point on, he was doomed.

Yes, he put up great offensive numbers in the first two years after the lockout but look at his plus/minus and the breakdown of the points (PP v. EV) and you see the picture of a defender that translated a booming slapshot and an increase in powerplays into a position among the elite defencemen's pay range without the accompanying defensive skill.

It was really in the past year that things truly went sour for McCabe. Sure, a good friend of mine raged against every point that he scored in 2005-2006 but most Leaf fans still saw McCabe as good enough offensively to balance out his defensive shortcomings. By the fourth game in the season it was clear it was going to be a tough one for the Leafs and their # 24:

Or was it Bryan Fucking McCabe skating into the net while trying to round it? No, seriously, if you missed the highlights everything in red was dominating the Leafs last night.

Ouch. Of course, no one will ever forget The Goal.

Or the ensuing tribute:

Or the website. The media had a field day and Darcy Tucker showed his leadership by...suggesting that we had to reason to criticize McCabe. That reaction surely played a part in his buyout. By Christmas fans thought that they needed to remind him that as a defenceman his first priority was, in fact, defence. Come the new year the biggest question was "what if McCabe had been traded or let go by JFJ?" What if, instead of bowing to the perceived public pressure to keep McCabe at all costs, JFJ had moved McCabe at the deadline to cash in on an aging asset while paving the way for one of the younger defencemen to step into the lineup. Or if he had balked at locking him up for five years instead of taking a run at one of the league's monster like Zdeno Chara?

By the time he had repeatedly refused to waive his No-Movement Clause (Damn you JFJ) the writing was on the wall. Anyone that saw Fletcher's angry reaction knew that the Silver Fox's revenge would be swift and brutal. DGB tried to save McCabe with a five-step plan to reforming his image but it was too little, too late. Also, he ignored it anyway. At first it seemed that McCabe was angling for a buyout but that was never going to happen so he settled for a $2M kiss goodbye. Uncle Cliff obliged as he repaid McCabe's obstinacy with a one-way ticket to hockey (and life's) graveyard.

You'll probably see some of Gus Katsaros' (formerly of that site) arguments being used to belittle the trade. The draft pick has already been addressed: it was a small price to pay to keep McCabe's influence away from the future of the Maple Leafs. It was not a move precipitated by a vendetta by Fletcher to get rid of the Muskoka Five. He could have moved Kubina as well if he was just looking to punish those five for overstaying their welcome in Toronto. Instead he cut the two guys that most represented what the Leafs had become: whiny, soft, stupid, and lazy. Which one of those characteristics do you want your prospects to acquire?

The numbers that Acekicker compiled for Gus seem to paint a picture of Bryan McCabe as an indispensible cog in the blue and white machine. Set aside the question of whether being an important cog in a broken machine is actually valuable and let's take a look at those numbers:

With McCabe: 209gms, 106-77-26, 238pts, 93pt pace
W/O McCabe: 37gms, 11-22-4, 26pts, 58pt pace

Goals For:
With McCabe: 209gms, 647gls, 3.10g/gm
W/O McCabe: 37gms, 89gls, 2.41g/gm

Goals Against:
With McCabe: 209gms, 642gls, 3.07g/gm
W/O McCabe: 37gms, 139gls, 3.76g/gm

Goal Differential:
With McCabe: 209gms, +6gls, +0.03g/gm
W/O McCabe: 37gms, -51gls, -1.48g/gm

Power Play:
With McCabe: 209/1068, 19.6%
W/O McCabe: 30/177, 17.0%

Penalty Kill:
With McCabe: 869/1094, 79.4%
W/O McCabe: 129/170, 75.8%%

In a couple of lines I'll take a look at some more pertinent numbers but let's address the first number about the record. Last year I did a 'Five Questions" feature prior to a Pens game that asked me about the impact of McCabe being out of the lineup:

The truth is that much like Colaiacovo's absence the impact of the loss is a showcase for the trickle down effect of injuries. On the powerplay Kubina steps into his slot but he's a right handed shot so the Leafs have two up top (Pavel and Mats) which takes away the one timer from that side. In terms of ice-time it means a heavier load for Kubina and Kaberle 5 on 5 and more 5 on 5 time for Gill which is not where his strength lies. His absence, now that Carlo has returned, means that Andy Wozniewski, inexplicably, not only remains in the lineup but begins to see more/some time on the penalty kill.

The real reason that the Leafs' record without McCabe has been so terrible isn't that he is so great but that the Leafs' depth defencemen were not as good as McCabe. The strain of having to cover the fact that Ian White is terrible or that Hal Gill is a specialist defenceman or that Andy Wozniewski was a crime against humanity accounted for the losses piling up more than losing McCabe's defensive prowess.

If we want to look at some numbers (unfortunately, just for the past two seasons) then Behind The Net's are a great resource.

2007-2008 Even Strength Statistics
Statistic Value Ranking Amongst Defencemen
Rating -0.52 7th
TOI/60 16.77 3rd
Corsi -0.08 7th
Pts/60 0.46 7th
GFON 2.32 6th
GAON 2.32 8th

McCabe actually scored the 2nd fewest points at even strength despite playing the 3rd most minutes. In fact, the scored the 3rd least amount of goals when McCabe was on the ice.

2007-2008 Powerplay Statistics
Statistic Rating Ranking Amongst Defencemen
TOI/60 4.43 2nd
Pts/60 3.77 3rd
GFON 6.53 3rd
GAON 1.26 2nd
GFOFF 7.38 3rd
GAOFF 0.49 8th

The powerplay did better when McCabe was off the ice than when it was on it by almost 1 full goal every 60 minutes of powerplay time.

2007-2008 Penalty Killing Statistics
Statistic Value Rank Amongst Defencemen
TOI/60 3.34 1st
GAON 8.31 3rd
GAOFF 6.67 7th

Again, the penalty kill is significantly better when McCabe was not on the ice than when he was playing.

2006-2007 Even Strength Statistics
Statistic Value Rank Amongst Defencemen
TOI/60 16.77 3rd
Pts/60 0.46 7th
GFON 2.99 5th
GAON 8th 8th

Again, McCabe does not drive scoring results at even strength although he was the best on the team defensively. As they say, every dog has his day.

2006-2007 Special Teams Statistics
Statistic Value Rank Amongst Defencemen
PP +/- +4.54 3rd
PK +/- -8.81 8th

Not only is McCabe only the third best defender on the powerplay in terms of +/- but he's also the worst on the penalty kill. It's a shame that BTN does not have the stats for 2005-2006 and that it's not as detailed for 2006-2007 as they are for last season but it does do a lot to counter the belief that McCabe was a driver of scoring at even strength, that he was THE key to the powerplay or that the penalty kill was postively affected by his presence.

At the end of the day, the numbers only help tell part of the story. The main reason that McCabe's tenure with the Leafs has ended has more to do with questions about leadership and fears that his influence would negatively impact the Leafs' youth movement. In that light, the fourth rounder is a small price to pay to see the back of # 24. All the best in Florida and when you face off against the Leafs' remember what you learned last year: don't score on the net with the blue goalie.

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