JFJ defends defenders

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

MONTREAL -- With his two so-called franchise defenceman looking more like duds than studs so far this season, Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson continues to stand behind the inconsistent duo of Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle.

He doesn't have much of a choice.

After throwing gobs of cash at both veterans the past 10 months in order to retain their services for the long term, Ferguson, who also is angling for a contract extension of his own, will sink or swim with McCabe and Kaberle.

Having signed both to five-year deals, Ferguson was asked yesterday if he would do it all over again given the opportunity.

"Absolutely," Ferguson said yesterday at the Bell Centre, where his staggering Leafs had just finished practising in preparation for tonight's showdown against the Montreal Canadiens. "There is no question I would, based on their play, their ages and the market.

"They set the tempo for us. They've got to be our best players. That's what kind of players they are."

Yet they have not been Toronto's best players through the first three weeks of the regular season. Far from it.

Through 11 games, McCabe, who will earn $28.75 million US through the duration of his contract, has been inconsistent defensively and has scored just one goal.

Kaberle, who is slated to make $21.25 million through 2011, only has two points and continues to struggle, especially when the games get down and dirty in the corners.

With the Leafs having allowed 33 goals in the past seven games, both know it is time to step up.

McCabe seems to have become the whipping boy of public scrutiny in Toronto, often landing the role of scapegoat whether deserved or not.

To his credit, McCabe faces the criticism head-on as he always has.

"I'm still working hard, regardless of the amount of money I'm going to make," he said. "We're all going to get better.

"(Tomas and I) have to be at our best every night. We are the veteran guys back there and have to lead by example, especially with all the young guys back there.

"We haven't been good enough the past two nights and we have to pick our games up -- both of us."

Kaberle said salary should not be an issue when evaluating someone's play.

"Every team has guys making different amounts of money, so it shouldn't matter," he said. "I'm not worried. My points will come."

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RIVAL ROUTS

Since the end of the 2004- 05 lockout, the Maple Leafs have endured some embarrassing losses against Northeast Division rivals, the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens, including seven games by four or more goals. Here's a look at those blow outs :

Oct. 26, 2006 (at Ott.)

Senators 7, Leafs 2

Oct . 24, 2006 ( at Tor.)

Senators 6, Leafs 2

March 25 , 2006 (at Mtl.)

Habs 6, Leafs 2

March 23 , 2006 ( at Mtl.)

Habs 5, Leafs 1

Jan. 21 , 2006 ( at Ott.)

Senators 7, Leafs 0

Dec. 17, 2005 (at Ott.)

Senators 8, Leafs 2

Oct . 29 , 2005 (at Tor.)

Senators 8, Leafs 0


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