Week at a Glance
Maple Leafs' McCabe emerging as a top all-around blueliner
By Jon A. Dolezar, SI.com
Bryan McCabe isn't an All-Star just yet, but he shouldn't stray too far from his phone this week.
With Scott Stevens still out with post-concussion syndrome, McCabe and Senators defenseman Zdeno Chara are the two leading candidates to replace the Devils' captain on the Eastern Conference blueline.
Maybe the fact that they are likely battling for Stevens' to-be-vacated position explains why McCabe took on Chara after a stick battle in front of Ed Belfour in the third period of Toronto's 5-1 win over Ottawa on Saturday.
It shouldn't matter that the 6-foot-1, 204-pound McCabe got spun around pretty good by the gigantic Chara, because it was testament enough to his courage that he was mixing it up with the league's biggest player. McCabe had a good laugh about his quick row with Chara when he was sitting in the penalty box with teammate Nathan Perrott.
After missing the first three weeks of the regular season following arthroscopic knee surgery on Oct. 3, McCabe has been the Leafs' best all-around defenseman. And his emergence as one of the top all-around blueliners in the league is one of the main reasons Toronto is atop the Eastern Conference with 69 points.
McCabe isn't quite in the top echelon of Nicklas Lidstrom, Rob Blake, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, but he's definitely in the second tier with Adrian Aucoin, Chara, Ed Jovanovski, Derek Morris, Wade Redden, Mathieu Schneider and Sheldon Souray among two-way threats from the back end.
McCabe's playing with Tomas Kaberle on the Leafs' top defense pairing gives head coach Pat Quinn a versatile duo who complement each other. Kaberle is a passer, while McCabe is a shooter. Kaberle is a skater, while McCabe is a checker. The two feed off each other, with Kaberle serving as the nimble, puck-moving half of the duo while McCabe takes care of the physical duties.
"It makes my job a lot easier playing with a guy like Tomas," McCabe said. "He's an All-Star by all means. He's a guy who can skate the puck -- he does a great job and sees the ice. He makes my job real easy. I just like to get him the puck and let him go."
Quinn acknowledges that McCabe is continuing to make strides in his overall game, but he wants him to work on his decision-making, particularly in regard to when to jump into the offensive flow and take risks.
"Our hope for him is to become that all-around defenseman you can put out in any situation and feel very comfortable," Quinn said. "Guys that are thinking offense put themselves in bad spots sometimes. And so I'd like him still to be working on his positioning and his play on covering people that could be in dangerous spots."
McCabe scored a career-high 17 goals in 2001-02 and looked ready to knock on the door of the top group of blueliners. But he regressed to just six goals last season and had as hard of a time as any player in the league getting used to the NHL's obstruction crackdown, taking numerous penalties for not moving his feet.
McCabe appears to have improved his mobility, and he's not spending as much time in the penalty box for silly fouls. When he sits in the sin bin now, it's because he's doing the dirty work that helped him rack up an average of 147 penalty minutes over his first eight seasons.
After bouncing from the Islanders to the Canucks to the Blackhawks to the Leafs by the time he was 25, McCabe appears to have found a home in Toronto. Fans love his rugged style and his willingness to make the physical plays needed in his own end while also showing a gambling spirit with the puck.
When the East reserves were announced, McCabe was left off the squad in favor of Aucoin, Redden, Souray and Nick Boynton. It's hard to argue with three of those selections, but Boynton isn't as deserving as either McCabe or Chara. Leafs captain Mats Sundin will be playing in his eighth All-Star Game, and he believes McCabe should've been named to the team, too.
"He's been playing great all year," Sundin said. "He certainly deserved to be in the All-Star Game. He should've been there, but he didn't get a chance to go. He's certainly been one of our best players all year. I think he's proven the last few years that he's one of the best defensemen in the league and he certainly deserved to go this year."
"He's had that type of season where he could warrant that position," Quinn said. "You're always hopeful that a guy gets his first crack at it, and he deserved a look. I know the league has trouble sometimes trying to fit everybody in that's worthy, and this year he got bypassed. I don't think it put him down for long. He's like all of us -- you wish for that recognition when you do good work. And he's done good work."
With 11 goals and 20 assists in 46 games, McCabe is on pace for a career-high 51 points this season. While he may not yet rank up there with King Clancy, Tim Horton, Borje Salming and Allan Stanley among the legendary Leafs blueliners, a couple of more seasons in T.O. along these lines and his name may start being whispered among the greats.
If the All-Star phone call doesn't come this week, McCabe will be happy to take the time off and refocus his energy on a Stanley Cup run. Leading the Leafs to their first Cup in 37 years would be more of a thrill than an All-Star Game, but McCabe would still like to make the Midseason Classic at some point, if not this season.
"There are lots of great players out there, and not in my wildest dreams did I think that I'd make it anyway," McCabe said. "It was a little disappointing -- because of course I'd love to go -- but all the players that are going are really good players and deserve to be there. That's the way it goes. Hopefully I can keep it going and get an opportunity another year."
And if the league picks Chara over him this week to replace Stevens, McCabe will another crack at the Sens' giant rearguard on Thursday in the latest installment of the always feisty Battle of Ontario.
NHL All-Star Game will get a chilly reception
And for the league's 630 or so players who won't be participating in the fun of All-Star weekend, it will be a well deserved four days off to recharge their batteries for the final eight weeks of the regular season.
For the record, I'll say West 8, East 5 with Jarome Iginla earning MVP honors.
World Cup of Hockey update
Joel Quenneville and Andy Murray have also received strong consideration, but Gretzky's desire to stick with the winning bunch likely will win out. There is a possibility that Murray could be added in a role such as a video coach, largely as a reward for his leading Team Canada to two gold medals at the World Championships.
As for Team USA, St. Louis' game in Atlanta on Wednesday gave Blues general manager Larry Pleau and Thrashers general manager Don Waddell the chance to have face-to-face discussions about what they are thinking in regard to putting together Team USA's coaching staff and roster.
"We've met twice and kind of got some ideas on players, staff and training camp," Pleau said. "We're just going through a process to give us some thoughts and some ideas from each other and see where we end up with this."
The two will have another chance to get together in St. Paul, Minn., over the All-Star weekend. Pleau and Waddell will appear at a news conference with USA Hockey executive director Doug Palazzari on Friday, though no coaching or roster decisions will be announced at that time. Their timetable for announcing a coach remains undecided.
Avalanche rolling on the road
The Avs recorded points in each of their 10 January road games and have a streak of 13 games in a row on the road with a point that dates to Dec. 20. Colorado has just one regulation loss in its past 23 games away from the Pepsi Center, and only the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens have ever had a stretch away from their home rink that was that impressive. The Avs are on pace to total 58 points on the road this season, which would eclipse the franchise record of 56 set in 1992-93 when they were still the Quebec Nordiques.
Vancouver at N.Y. Rangers -- 7 p.m. EST MondayThe Canucks can take over the top spot in the Western Conference with a victory in Manhattan, while the home team desperately needs a win to keep its rapidly fading playoff hopes alive.
Ottawa at New Jersey -- 7:30 p.m. EST Tuesday
Columbus at Dallas -- 8:30 p.m. EST Wednesday
Toronto at Ottawa -- 7:30 p.m. EST Thursday
Vancouver at New Jersey -- 7:30 p.m. EST Thursday
Detroit at Colorado -- 10 p.m. EST Thursday
Plus: Peter Forsberg -- Foppa is averaging an NHL-best 1.65 points per game, and if he hadn't missed so much time in the first half he would've been a lock for another All-Star appearance. Since the All-Star reserves were announced on Jan. 22, Forsberg has five goals and two assists in his past four games. There is little doubt who the best player in the world is, but Forsberg just didn't play enough games to merit selection as a reserve despite his incredible numbers.
Minus: Atlanta Thrashers -- The birds are just 2-11-3-1 since Dec. 26, and they play eight of their next nine games on the road. I don't want to prematurely call the race like the networks did with Florida in the 2000 presidential election, but with an 11-point lead and only nine weeks left in the season, the Lightning are close to wrapping up the Southeast Division and cruising home down the stretch.
Plus: John LeClair -- The rugged Flyers winger must have some Roxette going on his CD player, because he's partying like it's 1994. LeClair has three goals, six assists and a plus-6 rating in the past five games, making him a one-man version of the Legion of Doom line.
Minus: Alexei Kovalev -- None of the Rangers are really lighting it up, but 10 goals in 53 games for someone as talented as Kovalev is terribly disappointing. Kovalev has an eight-game goalless drought, during which he is minus-6. Rangers netminder Mike Dunham has been every bit as bad as Kovalev, with an 0-4 record, a 3.82 goals-against average and a .873 save percentage in his past four games.
Plus: Martin Biron -- Is it a coincidence that he stepped up his play right when his name started getting floated in trade rumors? Biron has won his past five starts and is 14-10-4 on the season, an impressive record that looks even better when you consider that Mike Noronen and Ryan Miller are a combined 9-16-1.
Minus: Patrick Lalime -- The Sens' "starting" goalie has allowed 16 goals in his past four games and is in danger of losing time to Martin Prusek. Lalime is 17-13-6 with a 2.29 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage this season, while Prusek is 10-4-1 with a 1.84 GAA and a .928 save percentage.
Plus: Glen Murray -- Muzz got off to a slow start and has been streaky this season after netting a career-best 44 a year ago. But after going 10 games without a goal, Murray has scored nine in the past eight games, including a natural hat trick in the third period on Sunday to help Boston rally for a 4-1 win. If he and Joe Thornton can get hot at the same time, Boston could be a dangerous team once the postseason rolls around.
"We're used to it by now. It's just our routine to lose a guy per game, it seems."
"I wasn't planning on going. He dropped his gloves. I couldn't just stand there and look like a fool and be embarrassed."
"Certainly finances are in the back of our minds all the time. We can't afford to lose a lot of money, but we just felt that for a 19-year-old kid, it's best for him to get back into his own element with his peers and try to win some championships, which we think is important for development."
"It's nice to win the thing, but in a game, I don't have half an hour to wind up." -- Oilers enforcer Georges Laraque, after winning the team's hardest shot event at Edmonton's skills competition.
Maple Leafs center Matt Stajan -- Not many people get to sleep in their childhood bed and commute to work as a million dollar professional hockey, but the 20-year-old native of Mississauga, Ontario gets to do just that with the Leafs. Mike and Nada Stajan have been Leafs season ticket holders for 25 years, so having their son grow up to play for the local team is a thrill for them, too.
Toronto drafted Stajan with the 57th pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft after he played three seasons with the OHL Belleville Bulls. The Leafs had Stajan ranked in the low 20s, so they were thrilled when he was still around when their second-round pick came up.
Stajan scored 94 points in 57 games in his final season with Belleville, marking a dramatic improvement for someone who was bypassed by all 20 OHL teams in his first year of major junior draft eligibility just three years earlier. Stajan was also plus-41 for Belleville in 2002-03, and was voted the smartest player in the OHL's Eastern Conference by the league's coaches. His excellent hockey sense is among the chief attributes that is allowing him to have success in the NHL at such a young age.
Pat Quinn is traditionally not a big fan of playing young kids, but Stajan joined Dick Duff, Frank Mahovlich, Ron Ellis, Laurie Boschman, Russ Courtnall, Wendel Clark, Vincent Damphousse and Nik Antropov on the short list of players to make an impact in Toronto while still a teenager. Stajan turned 20 on Dec. 19, but the last teen sensation Quinn gave regular ice time to was Petr Nedved in his rookie season with the Vancouver Canucks in 1990.
Stajan has the rare distinction of having scored on his first NHL shot in his NHL debut (last April 5 in the regular-season finale against the Senators), but his latest goal was his best as a Leaf. In Friday's 4-1 win at Atlanta, Stajan weaved through two defenders and roofed a backhand over Pasi Nurminen's left shoulder in the third period.
"In junior hockey, I had goals as pretty as that one," Stajan said. "But in the NHL, that was the prettiest one I ever scored. I had a lot of speed going, picked up the puck off the boards and caught their defensemen flat-footed while I split them."
The goal was reminiscent of a more famous No. 14 for the blue and white, Hall of Famer Dave Keon, Stajan's father's favorite player. Living at home may have its perks, but constantly getting compared to Dad's favorite player surely isn't one of them.
Stajan has seven goals and nine assists in 49 games this season, in addition to an impressive plus-6 rating. He has a been a staple on the fourth line this season, though Quinn hasn't hesitated to sit him down or even scratch him when his play slips. Stajan showed good chemistry early this season with Owen Nolan and Harold Druken, though lately is has been Clark Wilm and Nathan Perrot with his most frequent linemates. With Druken and Wilm trading places in the Toronto-St. John's shuttle again in the past week, so a reunion of Stajan and Druken might be forthcoming.
.341 -- The St. Louis Blues' points percentage (5-12-5) since Dec. 18. The Blues have slipped from 20-6-2-1 to 25-18-7-1 over the past six weeks.
.705 -- The Dallas Stars' points percentage (13-4-5) since Dec. 19. The Stars have improved from 13-16-4-0 to 26-20-9-0 over the past six weeks.
6 -- Losses in the Phoenix Coyotes' first 10 games at Glendale Arena (2-6-1-1) after they went 6-5-2 in their 13 home games at American West Arena to start the season.
14 -- NHL-low total of man-games lost to injury by Tampa Bay this season. No Lightning regular has missed a game since Cory Stillman sat out with the flu on Dec. 20.
600 -- Career victories by Leafs head coach Pat Quinn, the fourth coach in NHL history to reach that milestone along with Scotty Bowman (1,244), Al Arbour (781) and Dick Irvin (692).
1,000 -- Games coached by Blackhawks head coach Brian Sutter as of Sunday's game at Montreal, making him the ninth bench boss to reach that milestone.
Our best guess at what the playoff seedings will look like.
Each week during the season, this space will be devoted to your comments on a particular issue.
Last week's topic: What team currently out of the playoffs is most likely to make a run in the final 10 weeks of the regular season?
I think the Buffalo Sabres are going to make a run at the playoffs in the final 10 weeks. The Sabres are on a four-game win streak and they are 23-25-10-6 with 57 points and are only two games below .500. -- Martin Stevens, Ottawa
Edmonton has too much grit and determination to miss the playoffs. Guys like Ryan Smyth and Brad Isbister will step it up to make sure they squeak in. The only problem is figuring out how to get into first place so they can play Dallas in the first round. -- Cam Atkins, Peterborough, Ontario
I will have to go with the Edmonton Oilers. Doesn't it seem that they always seem to pull it together and slip into the playoffs? Now actually doing something once they are in is a entirely different question. Maybe if they avoid Dallas in the first round.
The Rangers are most likely to make a playoff push, assuming the can get a quality goalie. Everyone seems to knock the Rangers for acquiring Jaromir Jagr, but they didn't give anything up for him. They didn't send Jamie Lundmark or Dan Blackburn. Any way you look at it, Jagr for Carter is a deal that anyone with a brain makes.
The Rangers will probably make a successful playoff run, with their throwing money to Jaromir Jagr, it's the New York way. I don't think they will go anywhere in the playoffs. Their team needs youth and a fire in their belly, which Jagr can't help them with. -- John D., Pottstown, Pa.
Anson Carter will score a short-handed goal against the Rangers' high-powered power-play squad on the last day of the season. Dany Heatley will then score his first hat trick since coming back for Atlanta, and the Thrashers will eke out the final spot from the Rangers by a point.
In the Western Conference, it would not surprise me to see the Minnesota Wild go on a run after the All-Star break. The East, in my opinion, is pretty much lost. The only team there that can possibly squeak into the playoffs are the Atlanta Thrashers, and that is only if Dany Heatley shows flashes of his old self. The Rangers can only make the playoffs if they disband their current team and buy the New Jersey Devils.
Watch out for the Coyotes. They are playing way over their talent level. With hot goalies, they can make a serious run for a playoff spot. -- Scott Schnee, Phoenix
The Thrashers have a brutal schedule in February with just three home games, but if they get everyone healthy and Dany Heatley makes it back, Atlanta could have enough left in the tank to make the playoffs.
There is definitely going to be one place up for grabs in the West, as I can't see Nashville lasting the pace. Surely it'll be the Kings that replace them. Those guys deserve some good fortune after the injury problems they've had over the last two seasons. If they ever got fully fit then they could challenge the Sharks for the division title.
As a Rangers fan, I would say that they should start booking tee times now. In the West, I'd say that L.A. seems like an obvious choice as they start getting people healthy. In the East, I'd say Atlanta. What a great coaching performance. Also, having endured the beginning of the season and not capsized, I think the Thrashers will only get stronger.
If you look at two teams that made noise in the playoffs last year, you have to think either Anaheim or Minnesota are going to get it back together and make the playoffs. Anaheim's probably too far back to make it, especially when you consider who's on the team. I'll take Paul Kariya and Adam Oates any day over Sergei Fedorov and Vinny Prospal. Minnesota is much closer to a playoff spot, and you have to think that Marian Gaborik will find his game and help this team win more in the second half. To the detriment of hockey, I have to say that Minnesota will make the playoffs again. -- William Sleeman, Vancouver
The Los Angeles Kings will be there. These guys are amazing given the number of man-games lost to injury this season. Different guys seem to step up each week. If they could actually get a healthy team together, the Kings and their tough, gutsy work ethic could end up being led by Andy Murray right into the finals. -- John Heberling, San Antonio
This week's topic: Now that Jaromir Jagr has been dealt, who will be the biggest name to change teams before the trade deadline?
Send your opinion in the form at the right.
Jon A. Dolezar covers the NHL for SI.com. The Week at a Glance will be off next Sunday for the All-Star break, but will return on Feb. 15 for the duration of the regular season.