McCabe deal makes sense

AL STRACHAN

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

RALEIGH -- At the moment, there doesn't appear to be a lot of connection between Bryan McCabe and the playoffs.

After all, he plays for the Maple Leafs.

So much for the mandatory cheap shot. Now let's move on to take a little more serious look at the future.

McCabe's own future will be with the Leafs, a consequence of the five-year deal for almost $30 million US that he signed earlier this week.

In some areas, that was viewed as being on the high end, and there's no doubt that it certainly is a significant amount.

But if the National Hockey League evolves as anticipated, it might be seen as reasonable, not unduly out of line when compared to the return.

In the NHL, as in any other sports league, success breeds imitation. Look, for instance, at what happened to the sport after the New Jersey Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1995. Before long, the trap was clogging offences everywhere.

At the moment, NHL coaches are looking for the next direction. They're still learning to deal with the new philosophy of officiating, and now that it's clear that it's here to stay, the holdouts will be fully on board next season.

Last year, many coaches and general managers sat on the fence, unsure of the league's resolve. That won't happen this year.

So at this stage of the season, all the league's coaches, the already converted and the about-to-be converted, are closely watching in order to determine what makes a team successful. Then they'll mould their own strategies accordingly.

The series between the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes provided them with a perfect example of the new NHL. Neither team was highly touted at the start of the season but they were the last two Eastern teams standing.

And what did a coach see when he watched those teams? He saw a down-low defence in which it is not unusual to find all six defenders behind the hashmarks.

And he saw a series that was not only determined by power-play scoring, but dominated by it. Of the 39 goals, no fewer than 13, a full third, came on the power play.

Even so, two of the best offensive teams in the NHL scored fewer than three goals a game on the average.

Furthermore, the games were close. Five of the seven were decided by one goal and a sixth was a one-goal game until the final minute.

On the other side of the league, with one exception, the games were just as close and just as low-scoring. Granted, the Edmonton Oilers used a defence that is structurally different -- more man-on-man than most teams -- but the basic premise was the same. They still clog the low areas.

So it would seem then, that in the future, we're going to see NHL games that are close and low-scoring, thanks to the traffic jams near the crease, and decided by power-play goals.

MOST COVETED TYPE

And if that's the case, the most coveted type of player is going to be one who can capitalize on that ever-so-tiny fraction of a second that the down-low defences concede to the point men.

He'll be someone who can play defence with authority, and unload his accurate shot from the point in a hurry, especially on the power play.

Does anyone spring to mind?

Defencemen already are the most difficult species to find. Look at the free-agent list every year. It's awash with goalies and forwards, but genuine elite defencemen are scarce.

If the game changes so that a further premium is put on defencemen with a big shot and a fast release, that scarcity will become even more pronounced.

And in hockey, as in everything else in our society, price is determined by the laws of supply and demand.

That's how the playoffs have helped make Bryan McCabe a rich man.


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