Phaneuf the new McCabe

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

When the Maple Leafs trotted out new defenceman Dion Phaneuf, they played up his attributes as a heavy hitter, with a stinging point shot and a vocal leader.

If that sounds a lot like Bryan McCabe’s old job description here, well, it’s not escaped the one-time horse on Toronto’s blue line.

“He’s a lot younger than me (24 to 34),” McCabe chuckled Tuesday morning as the Florida Panthers readied for the Leafs. “And very physical, way more physical than I was, I think.

“But he was a good acquisition. They tried to go in a different direction with some grit and toughness and he’s a young guy who can bring that.”

It wouldn’t have been a shock to see McCabe call an ACC program seller down to the Panthers’ bench before the game to familiarize himself with the new Toronto lineup. The Phaneuf trade on Jan. 31 and the deadline deals that followed on March 3 almost completely wiped the slate of players McCabe knew from his seven years here up to 2008.

“It’s amazing to me that there’s only one guy left (old partner Tomas Kaberle),” McCabe said. “I thought they’d clean house, but not 22 of 23 guys. That’s a pretty big overhaul.

“But (general manager Brian) Burke has a vision about what this club can be. He’s a smart guy, a great hockey mind and I respect him a lot. They have some pretty good talent that’s working really hard right now.”

McCabe would like to say he has moved way up in the world with the Panthers, but though they were five points ahead of the Leafs before Tuesday night’s game and he is team captain (Phaneuf also inherited his alternate’s letter), he is still looking for his first playoff trip since the Leafs last appeared in 2004.

“We have the personnel, we just haven’t performed to our abilities and that’s the disappointing part,” McCabe said. “We were more consistent last year, but didn’t have the injury trouble of this year. Losing two of our top-four forwards, we’re not that high-scoring of a team to begin with.

“But we’re still in the battle, we’re healthy and hopefully, we get some wins. We’re seven points out (of eighth spot) and 11 games to go, so you never know what can happen. Hockey’s a funny sport.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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