Thursday, March 02, 2006

The McCabe Dilemma

Here's the story that's been making the circuit on talk radio today in this city (started by the story in today's Toronto Star):
The Maple Leafs have one week and three games to decide whether they will be a buyer or a seller at the March 9 trade deadline, and in that time they must decide what they are going to do with star defenceman Bryan McCabe. . . .

. . . .the Leafs have yet to sign McCabe and there are growing indications McCabe and his agent, Jeff Solomon, are intent on testing the free agent market July 1.
The problem, as I see it, with McCabe is that his value is now higher than his actual worth. He's got 53 points in 49 games this season, leading all NHL defenceman in points-per game, on the last year of a deal that is paying him $3.458-million. Even at that salary, under the NHL's $39-million salary cap, it's debatable as to how sought-after McCabe would be around the league.

His defensive game, as has been widely talked about, just isn't up to par.

The Toronto Star reports McCabe and his agent are seeking a five-year deal similar to the one Sergei Gonchar signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the offseason ($5-million/five years). Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson, Jr., needs only to look down the road to Pennsylvania to see how well that's worked out for Mario Lemieux and company.

McCabe? At that price, make a deal. The Leafs already have $4.25-million wrapped up in Tomas Kaberle, and putting an additional $5-million to McCabe virtually guarantees the pairing is the team's top defence pair through the 2010-11 season — barring trades of course.

And we all know the heights to which Kaberle and McCabe have taken the Leafs the past five seasons.


At 4:50 p.m., March 02, 2006, Blogger The Puck Stops Here said...

Its such a commonly repeated idea that McCabe's defensive game "just isn't up to par", that usually it is allowed to pass with any attempt to support it, but I disagree with the statement.

This season, McCabe has been at least average (if not better than that) in his own zone. Granted he is no Chara or Lidstrom, but he is hardly a liability.

At 4:52 p.m., March 02, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I agree with that, but for a $5-million a year defenceman, a guy who will be on the ice 30 minutes a game, it's not good enough.

That's what I mean.

He's a more physical player than a guy like Gonchar, but he's not any more defensively aware than players of that ilk.

At 5:57 p.m., March 02, 2006, Blogger The Puck Stops Here said...

For a $5 million defenceman you want somebody who gives a high net contribution (goals produced - goals allowed). I think that this season McCabe has produced at that level (if not slightly higher than it).

The problem with this discussion is that it is hard to quantify exactly how many goals he allowed (or for that matter how many he produced). Having watched McCabe this season he has been one of the best defenders in the league (and often the best).

He scores more than any other defender this year. He is solid in his own zone though unspectacular.

I would take that for $5 mill anytime if I had the money and I had an NHL team.

The question is when we project McCabe into the future how certain are we that he will stay at this level. I am not so certain. This looks like it might be a career year offensively, though I think his defence is still improving.

If I knew the McCabe I got for $5 mill was the one I have seen so far this year, I would not hesitate to add him. I don't know that he will stay at this level, but under the right circumstances I might gamble on his ability to keep it up.

At 6:05 p.m., March 02, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Well, projecting players into the future is always the GM's role. Personally, I wouldn't pay McCabe $5-million next season — let alone five years from now. I'm not dedicating nearly 13 per cent of my team's salary to anyone but a genuine, proven elite defenceman (Chara, Lidstrom, Niedermayer, etc.).

One of the Leafs' main problems, as I said, is that Kaberle is already getting a fair chunk of the blueline payroll. How much is left for McCabe on this team when you already have one capable offensive threat from a defenceman?

At 6:12 p.m., March 02, 2006, Blogger ninja said...

$5m? No frickin way! He can shoot, but can he create offense? And now that the opposition is fully aware of his shot, oh how his production has dropped.

His positioning and physical play is adequate. It is his decision making that is questionable.

At 6:19 p.m., March 02, 2006, Blogger The Puck Stops Here said...


One problem with your thinking is that you seem to be slow on deciding when a defenceman is a "genuine proven elite defenceman".

This year, McCabe has played as one.

I think its a very safe statement that McCabe will be worth more to a team then Niedermayer (who you would pay for) over the course of a five year contract. Its quite possible he could be more valuable in every one of the five seasons (though I would not bet on that).

If McCabe can keep up his level of play for another season or two, you will probably decide he is a "genuine proven elite defenceman" and if you sign him then you will likely have missed out on the best years of his career, but you would now be willing to pay hiom for them.

At 6:31 p.m., March 02, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Heh, I'm not 'slow' to decide anything. But I do think we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one (and spare anyone still reading this the redundancies).

Niedermayer's having another phenomenal season in Anaheim and is a world-class, Hall of Fame calibre defenceman. McCabe is simply not. He's had a great year, and yes, perhaps for 2005-06 he would be worth the money. In the future, I say no. (And, based on the fact the Leafs are at least contemplating taking a pass, they may agree.)

I believe McCabe and his agent will find the market for his services won't be nearly as high as they think it will (should they choose to test it in the offseason). Niedermayer? He's already making $6.75-million a year.

At 8:08 p.m., March 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a fictitious scale where defensemen like Niedermayer, Chara, Lidstrom, etc would be at 100, McCabe is probably at 75-80. He will never, ever get to that 100 mark. Therefore, spending Gonchar money for a Gonchar term on him is completely bonkers to me. If he and his agent think they're gonna hoodwink some GM out there (if not JFJ) and get Gonchar money, then good on them. But I say he gets a smidge above Kaberle money from the Leafs and that's it. He is NEVER going to become someone's Lidstrom, I also hope he does not become the Leafs Gonchar... AND I LOVE THE LEAFS!!! But I'm also a realist... And as much as it pains me to say all of the above about a good Leaf player, I also think that if McCabe's agent wants JFJ to part with Gonchar money, then McCabe has to go. His value is at pretty high right now (high for McCabe) and we could get possibly 2 good, young, mobile D-men in return. Or 1 plus a couple good draft picks.

At 8:28 p.m., March 02, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Good comments.

Although, considering McCabe will be a UFA this summer, teams may not be willing to part with much in a trade until he is signed.

At 9:25 p.m., March 02, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

Is anyone familiar with aging studies for hockey players? In baseball, it has been shown definitively that for an overwhelming percentage of players, their peak years are ages 27 and 28. This seems to hold for a number of other sports as well, but not all of them.

I'd be surprised if the same thing isn't close to true for hockey players, though it may be even younger based upon the level of physical punishment they take. (Peak years for an NFL player are younger than for baseball for that reason; the wear and tear of age works faster, battling experience to a draw earlier.) Whatever that age is, teams are smart not to pay top dollar for someone's decline phase.

Right now, the hockey reserve clause makes it such that teams can suck the marrow out of a player's career at below market rates, and it's foolish to make free agency the cornerstone of any team.

Bryan McCabe is 30. Granted, again extrapolating from baseball, players that play at an elite (rather than very good) level age more gracefully, and this would be particularly true of a guy like Lidstrom who doesn't take the physical pounding that most defensemen do, but I'd be unwilling to commit unrestricted free agent money to almost any defenseman eligible for unrestricted free agency.

No one is going to become a great team by signing Bryan McCabe, or Niedermeyer, or even Lidstrom. You're going to become a great team by figuring out how to produce the next great defenseman, and then getting him relatively cheap for his best seasons.

At 9:38 p.m., March 02, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I haven't seen the studies, JMN, but anecdotal evidence suggests that — and especially for defencemen — they actually play better as they get older. Look around the league — there are very, very few elite NHL defencemen under, say, age 27 or 28. Most of the top defenders are peaking at around 30.

Your point is well-taken, however, as even the greatest players show at least some decline into their mid-30s.

Again, I don't have any evidence to back this up, other than looking at the guys who are being relied upon to play big minutes on the blueline in the league this season.


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