McCabe's psyche will have a hard time recovering

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

When the shock of what he had just done sank in, Bryan McCabe assumed the position, bending over in front of the Maple Leafs' net as if to have a 'Kick Me' sign affixed to his rump.

In a seven-year hitch with the Leafs, in which the good times have been increasingly obscured by individual and team implosion, the overtime own goal in Buffalo on Monday was a self-inflicted head shot from which his fragile psyche will have a hard time recovering.

McCabe, who faced the media music after the gut-wrenching loss, was excused from an encore yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. Predictably, everyone from coach Paul Maurice to Carlton the Bear came to the defenceman's defence, urging fans to hold their raspberries when he touches the puck tomorrow in the home game against the Florida Panthers.

"It can't help," Maurice said. "You're almost waiting for something else bad to happen."

But unlike Dr. Phil, this long and twisted case won't be cured in a 60-minute show.

* First, the hockey operations boys took away McCabe's favourite one-on-one can-opener stick manoeuver.

* Then coaches talked him out of his backup, the risky "flying ass" hip check, considering it positional suicide.

* The 2005 crackdown on obstruction further eroded his defensive game.

* He was ineffective in Sweden during the lockout, and on the world stage at the Torino Olympics, he looked out-classed.

* He has yet to live up to his second-team all-star status that led to a five-year, no-trade $28.75-million US contract in the summer of 2006, including $7.1 million this year.

* When foes neutralized his point shot, Tomas Kaberle became the Leafs' premier defenceman at significantly less cost.

There is a difference between being a bad defenceman and an overpaid one, of which McCabe falls into the latter.

But it makes him a fat target for Leafs Nation, those curious critters who cheer fourth-line sluggos, but sit on their hands while their captain puts up Hall of Fame numbers.

IN THE CROSSHAIRS

Starved for the playoffs since 2004, without a Cup for 40 years, the fans sense more futility just seven games into 2007-08 and an underachiever such as McCabe is in their crosshairs.

McCabe's youth and bravado used to see him through hard times.

He would give as good as he got, try to shake up the opposition with trash talk and such stunts as a blue and white mohawk haircut. He had enough dressing room chutzpah to be the Leafs' player rep and alternate captain.

But this season, with the booing rising in decibels, he has looked lost at times. In the midst of a 7-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, he walked right into his own net.

After one dangerous-looking clearing pass in the vicinity of Leafs goaltender Andrew Raycroft in the closing seconds of regulation in Buffalo, he did the unthinkable in overtime.

Darcy Tucker realized just how infamous McCabe had become during a family car ride yesterday morning.

"My kids can read about it and my young son wanted to know how Caber was doing," Tucker said. "That hits home.

"Some of the derogatory comments I heard in that 7-1 game, I wouldn't repeat, but let's say it was a very fine line. I'm sure it bothers people that he makes that much money. But he also goes home to a wife and kid and that can be difficult.

"Don't get me wrong, we appreciate and love (the fans). They are the seventh man out there. For some people, we're the first thing they wake up thinking about, what they talk about at the water cooler and what they watch at night.

"Bryan works harder than anyone else I've seen at getting ready other than Gary Roberts did. We all want to do better."


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