McCabe needs to think more

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

As the trading deadline closes in, the Maple Leafs try to figure out what to do about Bryan McCabe.

Do they keep him on a long-term deal at more than $5-million US a season, or do they cash in and move him before he becomes an unconditional free agent?

McCabe, meanwhile, does nothing to make their decision any easier.

He is their defensive workhorse. He plays more than half the game and he is on the ice in every type of situation. He possesses one of the most feared shots in the league and, if the opponents are foolish enough to let him be the trigger man on the power play, they will pay dearly for their oversight.

When game plans are being drawn up, the mention of McCabe causes considerable concern in the minds of coaches.

Unfortunately, at least two of those coaches are behind his own bench.

Last Tuesday, in the type of home game the Leafs have to win -- against the abysmal Washington Capitals -- McCabe earned himself a 10-minute misconduct when his team badly needed his offence.

TERRIBLE PASS

Earlier in that game, he took a shot that was minimal-percentage at best. It rattled off Matt Pettinger's pads and, on the resultant breakaway, Pettinger scored.

On Friday against the Buffalo Sabres, McCabe made a terrible up-the-middle pass that was picked off and converted into an odd-man rush, which the Sabres promptly turned into a goal.

On Saturday against the Ottawa Senators, there was another one of those ill-advised passes. This time, it didn't result in a goal, but only because on this occasion, the Leafs had good fortune on their side.

When players of McCabe's calibre make mistakes of that nature, it's not because they don't care.

Quite the contrary.

McCabe is a competitor. He plays with as much intensity as anyone in the league, and on Saturday night, when the Leafs played a strong game and nearly defeated a considerably superior opponent, McCabe once again was trying to do everything he could.

But that's the problem.

People like McCabe recognize the dire circumstances in which their team finds itself and they try their hardest to overcome it. So they take shots into opponents' pads in the faint hope the puck will somehow get through.

It's part desperation, part frustration. But in the long run, it's mostly counter-productive.

They try long up-the-middle passes in the hope that, despite the odds against it, they'll connect and lead to a goal. Again, it's a desperation move. But at that stage of the Ottawa game, there was no real need for desperation.

Therein lies the evaluation that McCabe needs to make more consistently.

He no longer is a 20-year-old kid with plenty of potential. He now is a 30-year-old veteran on his fourth team and facing the real possibility of joining Team No. 5 in the near future.

It's time for McCabe to settle down and be a serious, capable defenceman. It may chop a few points off his total and it may mean he's selected less frequently as a star of the game.

But it will make him a much more valuable player.

Golfers have a saying: Drive for show, putt for dough. The implication is that while putting is not as impressive as a booming drive, it determines the winner.

That's the attitude McCabe needs to adopt: Do the little things right and they'll make you a winner.

DETRACTORS

It's not that McCabe can't consistently be an elite defenceman.

The detractors who say that he wasn't good enough to play in Europe during the lockout either don't know the whole story or are indulging in a distortion.

McCabe skates well on any size rink and as a result, he can use his positional play to compensate for the loss of his "can-opener" move.

But he has to start to think more, and to play a more sensible game.

In the long run, it will not only help the Leafs, it will make him more valuable on the open market.


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