The fact that the Rangers planned on acquiring a defenseman before the Trading Deadline was one of the worst kept secrets in hockey. Bryan McCabe was included in those discussions, and ultimately he was the one that was brought in. The Rangers got a great deal. Looking at what the Bruins, Habs, and Sharks gave up to get Kaberle, Wisniewski, and Ian White respectively, the Glen Sather probably outdid his fellow GM’s in getting the best bang for his buck. A middle-of-the-round 3rd round selection and an irrelevant AHLer in Tim Kennedy was very little to give up for a productive and experienced defenseman like Bryan McCabe. But let’s put that all aside. We’re here to discuss Bryan McCabe the player. Our focus today is on how Bryan McCabe did as a New York Ranger, and what it took to get him here doesn’t affect that. Let’s take a look at his few months with the team:
What We Expected
Primarily, for him to help our miserable power play. Michael Del Zotto forgot to tell everybody that he planned on being a mess this season, and with no other defensemen capable of being the QB on the powerplay, Tortorella was forced to stick guys like Wojtek Wolski and Mats Zuccarello in the spot until they could find someone to fill the void. The Rangers were determined to make the playoffs, but that was going to be a difficult task with a powerplay contributing virtually nothing. Nobody was expecting McCabe to be Nick Lidstrom, but he’s been a guy whose career has basically been made on his power play success. An underrated aspect of the McCabe acquisition is his pedigree and experience. With 27 year old Steve Eminger as the grandpa on defense, I know that Glen Sather wanted him to be a calming influence on the blue line. Bryan McCabe has never been great defensively, so it would be unrealistic to expect him to produce that. However, what we DIDN’T want to see was the huge gaffs that he’s been prone to in his career.
How He Did
There are two parts to the Bryan McCabe story. There’s how Bryan McCabe did in the regular season, and how he did in the playoffs. McCabe did pretty much everything we could have asked of him in the regular season. An immediate visible difference was apparent. In his second game with the team against Buffalo, McCabe fired 6 shots, which was refreshing to see on a team that seemed afraid to shoot the puck. Though things looked much better tactically, the power play still struggled to produce initially. However, McCabe stuck with it, and Tortorella stuck with McCabe, and eventually the puck started going into the net. Up until the Rangers acquired McCabe the Rangers’ powerplay was ranked in the mid 20’s, but they got as high as 13th and ended the season at 18th. Pretty big jump for only a month and a half. There were only a two or three games where he made notable mistakes defensively, which is really as good as could have expected McCabe to do. Certainly, what he added offensively far outweighed the few times he messed up defensively.
But then there was the playoffs. During the regular season, McCabe played like a “veteran.” But in the playoffs, he simply just played like he was old. Perhaps the biggest reason for the Rangers’ exit from the playoffs 5 games in was because of the powerplay’s failure to get anything going. The Rangers were given 20 power play opportunities, and managed to score one goal. One. One goal that only happened because of an insane sharp angle bullet from Erik Christensen. Is McCabe fully to blame? Of course not. Still, he was brought in to change the powerplay. He made it happen in the regular season, but not in the playoffs. His defensive play wasn’t tragic, but it definitely wasn’t very good. He simply isn’t as fast as he used to be and you could see it was affecting him as much as anyone in the overtimes.
Final Grade: B-
This Rangers team realistically was trying to end up in the playoffs, and anything after that would have been a bonus. Bryan McCabe was a pretty important part of accomplishing that goal. He made our powerplay go from lethargic to flowing, from stagnant to productive. The Rangers didn’t faltar defensively, and the Rangers needed practically every goal they scored to get into the playoffs. Thus, I think we can say that, without McCabe, there’s a good chance we don’t make it into the playoffs. He wasn’t incredible and didn’t exceed expectations, but I don’t really see what more we could have realistically asked of him for the regular season. It’s too bad he couldn’t carry it over into the playoffs.
McCabe is an unrestricted free agent. At the time of the acquisition, Sather said he told McCabe and his agent that he would be open to resigning him. McCabe would only waive his No-Trade Clause to come to the Rangers and lives on Long Island, so it’s highly likely he’d love to return. I wouldn’t be absolutely shocked if he is resigned, but I don’t see it happening. Part of this might just be because the reporters failed to ask Tortorella about him, but I think the fact that Torts said the Rangers “have to make decisions” on Avery, Drury, Prospal, and Fedotenko, but did not mention McCabe, implies that the Rangers already made the decision the let him walk. He did what we wanted from him, but that was only given the circumstances. I think, with a full offseason and free agency to work with, Sather will want to add a defenseman with fresher legs. We’ll wait and see.