McCabe trying to handle boos

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:53 AM ET

BUFFALO -- So, one morning you're making toast and coffee, trip over the dog, and life goes splat. The neighbours laugh at you through the picture window and the kids hoot and yell that you're not worth the price of admission to the kitchen.

The only solution? Try again.

One night you're doing the rumpy-bumpy when suddenly the partner of your dreams leaps up and starts booing. It's enough to take the starch out of anyone's game.

There's nothing like a good mocking to make a guy feel like two cents -- even when the guy is making $23 million over the next four years and envied by just about as many Canadians as he has dollars.

Welcome to the world of Bryan McCabe, for whom fans have had some of the highest expectations and one of the lowest tolerance rates for failure. This has not been a banner year. And it didn't get any better last night when he contributed to the Buffalo Sabres' overtime winner.

"There was a (Sabres player) behind me and I was trying to clear it to the corner," McCabe said of a loose puck in the crease. "I certainly wasn't trying to put it into the net. It was a mistake."

With Raycroft down in a scramble, McCabe slammed the loose puck away from the crease but instead of finding safety it went off one post, clanked off the inside of the other and then in off Raycroft.

Coach Paul Maurice said he hopes people will give McCabe "a break." That's about as likely as Gary Bettman winning citizen of the year in Hamilton.

"This guy is having a tough time making something positive happen," Maurice said. "He's doing a lot of good things, blocking shots, moving the puck. But instead of getting confidence ... he goes home with this."

Two years ago, McCabe set a career high in goals with 19, was third among NHL defencemen in scoring and ranked first in the NHL in ice time with 28 minutes, 17 seconds a night. Before this latest folly, his most talked-about play this year involved tripping over his own net while trying to move the puck. Everyone looks at his contract and says he should be better than that.

At least that's one thing upon which McCabe and his critics can agree.

"I know we haven't played well as a team," McCabe said after yesterday morning's skate, "and I know that I'm capable of playing better, too. As athletes we're our own worst critics. We just haven't come out of the gate well. I'm probably squeezing the stick a bit. It's got nothing to do with the contract. The contract was two years ago and it doesn't have any bearing."

The Leafs have a rich tradition and that includes having someone the boobirds could sing at through every era. Frank Mahovlich is a beloved alumnus but was once accused of dogging it. Mention Jiri Crha and Ken Wregget and the air at the Gardens turned blue. Jonas Hoglund made people wince and they're still not sure about Nik Antropov.

"It's a tough thing to have happen to you. It seems that the people who booed Nik, now they're booing Bryan," Maurice said. "But that (Antropov bashing) turned out pretty good."

A team-high five goals have silenced Antropov's critics.

McCabe should be so lucky. "I can't control that (fan reaction). All I can do is my best," said McCabe. He has one goal, been a magnet for mistakes and is a minus-3.

If McCabe is feeling pressure from his billfold, he's not without company because his contract isn't that far out of line in today's NHL where Philadelphia is paying Kimmo Timonen $6.3 million each of the next six winters, Sheldon Souray makes $5.4 million a year and Brian Rafalski gets $6 million. But, like Souray, McCabe has to produce offensively to be deemed worthy by fans and, maybe unadmittedly, by himself.

Leafs captain Mats Sundin said he doubts McCabe is immune to the boos. "We're athletes but we're also people and any time you get criticism -- whether it's warranted -- it's going to affect you," Sundin said.

"Whether you're good at taking criticism or not, either way you hear it. Bryan has to remember he's been one of our best players."

Unfortunately, so far that's all it's been. A memory.


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