And these were the good times
Public sentiment is firmly on the Leafs' side. McCabe has become the poster child for the post-lockout Leafs: a whiny, entitled underachiever who makes superstar money while looking ordinary at best on the ice. Oh, and he has a no-trade clause. That he absolutely, positively will not even think of waiving.
Other than that, he's great.
All this could mean that McCabe is in for a fan reception that will make the Larry Murphy experience seem like Wendel Appreciation Night. It could get so bad that even the 100-level suits may look up from their business deals long enough to boo him.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Bryan McCabe can fix this if he wants. Not all at once, and not to the point that he'll be welcomed back to Toronto with standing ovations. But he can defuse what's shaping up to be a nasty situation if he's willing to swallow his over-developed since of pride.
Here's the five-step plan.
1. Acknowledge why the fans are angry
It's time for McCabe to stand up and take some responsibility for this mess. No, it's not his fault that John Ferguson whimpers like a schoolgirl every time an agent looks at him sideways. But he signed a big ticket contract that created expectations, and his play hasn't lived up to them.
The first step in any sort of McCabe reclamation project should be some sort of statement to the fans. Not an apology, of course -- that would asking too much. But at the very least, McCabe needs to acknowledge that his play over the past two years has been a disappointment, to the fans and to himself. The fans have a right to expect more of their highest paid player, and he should promise to work hard to make sure they get it.
2. Enough with the whining and excuses
Less of this...
Worse, McCabe has developed a maddening habit of insisting that the Leafs are a good team, despite all evidence to the contrary. He seems to think this makes him sound like a team-first, never-say-die warrior. It doesn't. It makes him sound like a delusional half-wit. Leaf fans don't need more smoke blown up their behinds -- that's Richard Peddie's job.
It's time for McCabe to drop the excuses. No more talk about injuries (every team has them). No more complaining about bad bounces (good teams make their own luck). No more whining about the officiating (stop clutching and grabbing and maybe they'll stop calling it).
McCabe's a 12-year-veteran. It's time he started sounding like one.
3. Tell the fans why he wants to stay
Yes, he has a NTC. So does half the league, but players still accept deals. What makes him different?
McCabe has never really explained his insistence on staying in Toronto, at least in any detail. He should. We've heard vague talk about liking the city and having family commitments, but that's just generic agent-speak. If McCabe is being sincere and not just stubborn, he should explain himself.
If he loves the city and can't imagine leaving, he should say so, and why. If he's always wanted to be a Maple Leaf and can't bring himself to play for another team, he should say so. If his wife is still working through her medical issues, he should say that.
Right now, the best explanation fans have heard is that the McCabes want to stay close to her family. And while that may be admirable on some level, "I can't accept a trade because my in-laws won't let me" isn't going to do much for your reputation in the sports bars of Toronto.
4. Settle down and play the system
McCabe has never been considered a great defensive defenceman, to put it mildly. But his reputation in Toronto as a pylon is at least somewhat unfair because he's never played for a defense-first coach.
Pat Quinn had a system: score, score, score and let Cujo and Eddie do cartwheels at the other end. He won a lot of games that way.
Paul Maurice had a system: Scowl, grimace, and then say something funny for the media. He didn't win many games, but he made Rosie DiManno's tummy flutter.
For the first time in his stint with the Leafs, McCabe will be playing for a coach who preaches defence. He should listen. McCabe never looks worse than when he's trying to do too much. He should focus on settling down and making the safe play.
5. When in doubt, drop the gloves
More of this.
McCabe used to fight semi-regularly, but as I pointed out in the Leafs are the softest team in the NHL post, that stopped once he signed his big contract. He fought 55 times before inking his deal, and only four times since.
There'd be no quicker way to feel the love from Toronto fans again than to get back to his old ways. Next year's Leaf squad will be young, fragile, and possibly even softer than last year's model. What better way to send a message that things really are different than with a big-ticket veteran sticking up for this younger teammates early on?
There you have it, Bryan. From rabid hatred to mild scorn in just five easy steps.
And if that doesn't work, here's one last step tp try: Waive the damn NTC and get out of town while the mob is still gathering pitchforks.