In Defence of Bryan McCabe

The crticisms of defencemen Bryan McCabe seem to be a bit excessive and at times unwarranted.

I am not sure if it has to do with the sweater he wears or what but there are alot of things that people do not like about McCabe.

Bryan is a very good offensive defenceman. Specifically he is a very good scoring defenceman. He has a great shot from the point and has scored alot of goals with it.

One of the big arguments is that his shot often misses the net. According to statistics compiled by NHL.com, McCabe is 27th among defencemen in missed shots. He has missed 49 shots this year in 48 games. To be more specific considering McCabe was hurt and missed time, there are 11 blueliners with a missed shots per game average greater than him. They include the likes of Lidstrom, Schneider, Chara, Rafalski, Niedermayer, Blake, Pronger and Phaneuf. I doubt you would find any criticisms for those players and their shooting accuracy. He is doing a good job getting his shots through and hitting the net since he is in the top 10 for shots (tied for 7th at an average of 2.6 per game). And for that amount of shots, he’s pretty productive. He is 2nd in shooting percentage and 2nd in goals scored for blueliners.

There are many who dont consider McCabe to be a good offensive blueliner since most of his points are on the powerplay. I have to question that as well. A power play is an offensive situation. Perhaps the most important offensive situation in the game. He has helped his team to the league’s 5th best powerplay. To be successful teams have to take advantage of the situation and McCabe helps the Leafs do just that. He is 2nd in power play goals and 3rd in power play points. So what if more than half his points are power play points, what good offensive blueliner doesnt score points on the powerplay? To me, that is a opinion that is pretty flawed to think McCabe isnt one of the best offensively.

One of the main knocks of McCabe’s game is that he is a poor defensive player. Indeed, McCabe has his defensive shortcomings. He is prone to blunders that at times prove costly. But he is not the absolute worst defensive defenceman and he has definitely cleaned up that part of his game. By the numbers, McCabe has had 48 giveaways so far this year in 49 games. That is still alot, but there are actually 13 blueliners who have a higher giveaway per game average than McCabe. They include the likes of Pronger, Chara, Jovanovski, Zubov and Markov. To say any one of them cannot play D or are error prone would be exaggerating.

Some other key defensive stats include block shots, hits and plus/minus. McCabe is averaging 1.8 blocks per game. And he actually has more block shots than the likes of Hatcher, Chelios, Rathje, Meszaros, Souray, Gill, Rafalski, Timonen, Sarich among many others. He also has 77 hits. That is more than supposedly more physical blueliners like Phillips, Rathje, Blake, Foote, Regher, Jackman, Gill, Souray. I am acutally surprised at McCabe’s plus/minus. He is a +2 currently which isnt bad but isnt great. But when you consider as a team the Leafs are a -11 and 22nd defensively, plus the fact that McCabe averages just over 28 minutes a game which is 3rd in the league, it is a surprise to find Mccabe a plus player. I think he holds his own in the defensive end for someone who really isnt a shutdown guy. He is not the best at it that’s for sure, but the numbers show that he is far from being one of the worst.

Now I do realize that the numbers dont really tell the whole story. However the numbers are the best evidence as to how well a player is doing. For example, with the way the likes of Eric Staal, Jason Spezza and Marc Savard are going being among the leading point getters, that should have gotten them a spot on Team Canada. Instead guys in scoring slumps or little offence like Draper, St. Louis, Bertuzzi did make it. It made no sense to alot of fans that the leading scorers arent even on Team Canada. The numbers dont lie they say. Well in this case, they positively support McCabe. His stats are pretty solid. Yet the criticisms are in great numbers.

It’s the intangibles they say that make the player not just the numbers. Indeed that is very true. But I think McCabe brings many intangibles. He is definitely a leader. He has grown into that role with the Leafs. I think he has matured a great deal this year. He still takes some bad penalties, he still may complain about some of them too, but they have declined from past years. Alot of that has to do with maturity, and it also has to do with his increased responsibility. McCabe moreso this year, has been asked to give guidance to the team’s younger players, specifically the blueliners. Before he learned from the likes of Leetch, Yushkievich among others and now he is passing the torch himself to the team’s future. To me that shows some growth. I think it did help plenty to be around Roberts, Niewy, Leetch to help him grow into a better player.

McCabe is not the most skilled player. Many people knock him for that. But he has significantly improved his all-round game and that has gone unnoticed. He has improved as a playmaker on the point on the powerplay. He has proven that he has a laserbeam of a shot from the point which he uses quite well. And he has shown a much more controlled game on defence. Yes i do realize he still makes mistakes, and costly ones at that, but it’s not every play and every shift that it’s happening.

I think alot of that has to do with work ethic. There is no doubt McCabe works hard and gives an honest effort every game. He will have his bad plays and bad games but it isnt for a lack of trying. Any player who has improved as much as he has did so through hard work. Sure there is times where he doesnt channel his energy and efforts correctly, but he gets full marks for at least putting forth the effort every night.

For all the good things about Bryan, there are alot of things he needs to work on. McCabe takes alot of chances. It often leaves him being caught out of position. He does need to work on that and get better at being smarter. But McCabe is one of those high risk, high reward players who I think need to play the way he plays to maximize effectiveness. He does take chances to have a greater impact for his team. Sometimes it doesnt work but I think most of the top blueliners play a bit on the edge.

He is not the best stickhandler. That is why it pays for him to play with a top puck moving blueliner. He found most of his success playing with Tomas Kaberle who is one of the slickest players and Brian Leetch who is a hall of famer to be because of his terrific hands. If he is paired with someone who can move the puck and pass the puck with precision and allow McCabe to be the trigger man, it maximizes his effectiveness. You can see that when he isnt playing with a good puck mover he tries to do things he isnt capable of and it causes trouble. The coaches have to put McCabe in a position to be successful.

And most importantly, McCabe needs to improve his discipline. That part of his game has improved 10 fold but still he needs to get better. The team needs him on the ice. He is such an important player that the shorthanded Leafs cannot afford to see him in the Box. Alot of that has to do with him playing on the edge and again he needs to be like that to be successful but still, he can be better. Considering the new rules have not eaten him alive I say McCabe is on his way slowly but surly to improving this part of his game.

I do realize others will have a differing opinion on Mccabe. But keep in mind I did mention some of the faults in his game. Yet I also laid out sound evidence that contradicts many of the opinions that he is one of the worst players in the NHL and undeserving of any accolades.

Much of your criticisms completely go against the voters for the year end awards who put McCabe 4th in Norris voting last year and will likely give him votes this time around. It goes against Pat Quinn who is the active leader in wins, the coach of Canada and an NHL coach for over 25 years. It goes against Wayne Gretzky and his staff for Team Canada who picked him to not be on the team, but a member of the taxi squad ready to substitute in case of injury. Obviously they felt McCabe could bring something to the table. That management group won Gold last time out. That team they pick in 2002 has several question marks as well but it delivered. The 2004 World Cup team was also one that was questioned. It too was ravaged with injuries to the blueline and yet it still worked out perfectly for them. I think Gretzky and Co. DO know what they are doing.

You people can nitpick at every pass, every mistake, every skate stride McCabe makes at this Olympics all you want. But if he wasnt a good player, he wouldnt be there. This isnt about a coach doing a favor for one of his own players. We know Quinn isnt about that. If he was, he would have stuck with Cujo in 2002. He would be giving McCabe his usual 30 minutes of ice time. This is about McCabe actually being a good player and a productive player. I wish people would see that. He earned the right to be there and in all honesty was a better option than those not chosen.

So as you can see, by the numbers and otherwise, McCabe is not as bad as some of you make him out to be. My goal was to prove that McCabe is what he is, not a superstar, not the best blueliner in the world, but a good defenceman who should not be considered among the worst. So I hope that people do away with their outlandish opinions of McCabe and actually see things for what they really are.


  • ructation