Not often does Bryan McCabe get bowled over but he was more than a little taken aback yesterday upon learning that former teammate Brian Leetch is touting him for the Norris Trophy.
"How can you comment on it?" McCabe said with a laugh. "When a guy like that says something, I don't what to say, I am kind of shocked."
Leetch, now with the Boston Bruins, played just 28 games (15 regular season, 13 playoffs) with the Maple Leafs after being acquired from the New York Rangers on March 3, 2004. But his impact on McCabe may have been immeasurable.
McCabe was rounding into fine form before Leetch arrived, and was named to the NHL's second all-star team in 2004. But being paired with Leetch, even for a short time, meant a lot. Leetch, who has Hall of Fame credentials, quickly became one of the guys in the Toronto dressing room.
"When he got traded here, I think everyone was a little starstruck,"said McCabe, who is tied for the lead in NHL scoring with 15 points (three goals and 12 assists)in nine games. "But he is such a grounded person. Just being around him for a couple of months was an honour. We drove to the rink together and he was such a calming influence. He is not a guy who says much but you see his patience on and off the ice and hopefully that has worn off on me."
Leetch, in his 18th NHLseason, reiterated after the morning skate yesterday that McCabe is the best defence partner he has had. Leetch also is impressed that McCabe, unlike the expectation in some corners, has been able to remain effective in a style of game that is much more difficult for defencemen to contain opposing players.
"I think it's time people recognize him as a top player," Leetch said. "You really need to build up (consistency) year after year to be recognized to people (hockey writers) who vote (for the Norris), and he has done that. With his skill level, he has been able to adapt to a different game. He is still as valuable a player now with the new rules as he was when he had to fight more and battle in the corners.
McCabe's loss of Leetch, who signed with the Bruins in August, is a big gain for the young Boston defencemen.
"We can only benefit having him here," Nick Boynton said. "He is not flashy, but he does everything smart.
"And he treats rookies the same way he does 10-year veterans. When I think of a superstar, I think of a guy like him."