Boo me, not Mats -- McCabe

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Bryan McCabe, Hogtown's favourite whipping boy, is standing outside the Florida Panthers dressing room chatting with an old acquaintance when he hears a familiar sound.

"Boooooo ...!"

Welcome back to the Air Canada Centre, No. 24. Feel at home yet?

The guy jeering McCabe is Keith Ballard, who just happens to be one of his Panthers teammates. What's up with that?

"I told the guys I'd probably get booed at practice, so they are just getting a head start," McCabe said laughing.

McCabe is a big boy. He can take it. He actually expects to be razzed when he steps on to the ice this evening, the first time he'll face Toronto since the Leafs shipped him and a fourth rounder in 2010 to the Panthers for defenceman Mike Van Ryn in September.

"They booed me when I played here, so why wouldn't it be the same when I come in (wearing) a different uniform?" McCabe said.

So go ahead. Rip him to your heart's content, Leafs Nation.

Where McCabe does draw the line, however, is when it is suggested that Mats Sundin might get a similar negative welcome when he comes back to the ACC on Feb. 21 wearing a Vancouver Canucks jersey.

The mere mention of the possibility gets McCabe riled up.

"It would be an absolute embarrassment if they booed Mats Sundin," McCabe said yesterday, shaking his head in disbelief.

"He is the leading scorer in franchise history. He was such a great leader. He gave his heart and soul to this town. That is no way for him to be treated.

"He was a free agent. He could go wherever he wanted. I mean, what do people here want from this guy?"

More, it appears, than McCabe could ever deliver to them.

That's why he knows his own critics will be in the stands tonight recalling some of his most famous gaffs as a Leaf.

Like the humiliating incident 15 months ago in which he fired the puck into his own net in the dying seconds of overtime, giving the host Buffalo Sabres an improbable victory.

He dealt with it when he was a Leaf, he'll deal with it now that he is a Panther.

But slagging Sundin? In McCabe's mind, that is an automatic unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

In Vancouver yesterday, Sundin practised on a line with another former Leaf, Kyle Wellwood, and young winger Mason Raymond. Sundin plans on accompanying the Canucks to Edmonton today for tomorrow's tilt with the Oilers, but will not decide if he will make his Canucks debut until after the morning skate.

McCabe, Sundin and Wellwood are just three of the names that no longer grace the Leafs dressing room, part of the extensive facelift the Original Six franchise has undergone since February. Chad Kilger, Wade Belak, Darcy Tucker, Andrew Raycroft, Scott Clemmensen, Jay Harrison, Carlo Colaiacovo, Alex Steen, they also have moved on, becoming mere footnotes in the section of the team's media guide entitled "All-time Roster."

And the list might not stop there.

The Internet and airwaves are filled with speculation concerning the potential departures of other longtime Leafs, including forwards Nik Antropov, Alex Ponikarovsky and defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina, both of whom hold no-trade clauses,

After the Leafs' 3-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators Saturday night, the hot topic among fans was a rumour that had Kaberle going to Pittsburgh for pending restricted free agent Jordan Staal.

Yesterday's sizzling scuttlebutt on the talk shows had the Leafs potentially swinging a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The two sides have, in fact, held recent discussions.

In any event, the Leafs penchant of "Out with the old, in with the new" suits McCabe just fine.

He loved his time in Toronto, sure. But when former general manager Cliff Fletcher told him last spring that he was no longer in the team's plans, the veteran defenceman did not want to stay where he was not wanted.

"I did not want to hold the team hostage," said McCabe, who has 18 points in 29 games. "I was just fortunate Florida showed such an interest in me.

"I loved my eight years here. I was here longer than anywhere I've ever been as a pro. It was great. I made some great friends along the way,

"You don't get the same buzz in Florida, which I miss. But you can walk down the street and not be recognized. It's nice. We love it there. The only thing that stinks is that there are not many people in the stands."

That won't be a problem at the ACC tonight.

If you listen closely, you might hear them booing already.


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