Leafs ask: Bryan who?

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

Bryan McCabe and the rest of the Florida Panthers will be in Toronto today preparing for tomorrow's meeting with the Maple Leafs.

It's McCabe's first official return here and the reaction from the fans no doubt will be mixed, considering the way his on-ice production went in the opposite direction from his fat contract during his final year with the Blue and White.

But for Leafs coach Ron Wilson, the offensive performance of his current defencemen has been an added bonus, especially the role they played in a pair of recent wins.

And it certainly has made the absence of McCabe, who was nowhere near the offensive threat last season that he had been earlier in his career, seem less noticeable.

Tomas Kaberle still can drive the coaches crazy with his defensive giveaways, but his 25 points rank him 12th in the league among defenceman in scoring. And Pavel Kubina, who set up the game winner by Alexei Ponikarovsky on Saturday night against Ottawa and potted the winner on a shot from the point against Atlanta on Dec. 30, is 20th with 20 points.

SOLID TOTAL

All told, Leafs defencemen have accounted for 80 points thus far this season, a solid total from a rebuilt unit.

"I'm not surprised in Kubina or Kaberle," Wilson said when asked about the point total. "But I guess the guy who has surprised me pleasantly has been Ian White.

"And Mike Van Ryn played only two thirds of our games. If he was in there, he'd probably have 20 points by himself."

White has five goals and six assists in 28 games and although some of those were recorded when he suited up as a forward in his first few games, he has shown nice flashes of moving the puck out of the Leafs zone. He also leads the team with a plus-7 rating.

Van Ryn, of course, is the player who came to Toronto from Florida in the McCabe deal, and other than his inability to stay healthy, he has been a big boost for the Leafs blue line. The London, Ont., native has missed the past eight games, however, after suffering his second concussion of the season in a Dec. 18 game in Boston and there is no immediate timetable set for his return.

GOOD AND BAD

McCabe, meanwhile, has scored eight goals and 10 assists in 28 games with the Panthers. But in yesterday's 6-5 shootout loss to Montreal, McCabe showed the good and bad of his game that Leafs fans were all too familiar with.

His power-play marker in the first period was countered by being caught on the ice for four Montreal goals, giving him a minus-3 on the afternoon.

Another Toronto blueliner who has impressed Wilson is tough Swede Jonas Frogren whose physical play is a much needed commodity on the back end.

For too many games early in the season, rookie Luke Schenn was the main physical presence in front of the Toronto net.

Wilson loves Frogren's fearless shot-blocking and the hard-nosed approach the Swede has brought to the club. The coach cited one play against the Senators on Saturday when Frogren pinned Ottawa forward Jarkko Ruutu to the ice for an extended period.

"He threw his body around and did a good job," Wilson said. "That kind of took the wind out of Ruutu's sails for the rest of the night."


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