It is always fun to relive the glory days, especially for Toronto Maple Leafs fans because recently, there haven’t been many of them. For Leafs fans the glory days usually just refers to when the team was making the playoffs regularly or when certain players were doing great things, since if you are referring to a Stanley Cup win that would mean referring back 48 years ago.
Some might refer to the days that the Maple Leafs had two of the most offensively gifted defenceman in the league at the same time, the glory days. Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe, who can forget the countless McCabe one-timers from the point put on a platter by Kaberle. It was a delight to see and even during the dark days of missing the playoffs post 2004-05 lockout, the two created something that Leaf fans could tip their hat to.
The Two Were Greats
The blueliners were synonymous with one another and though their skills may have been overrated playing on some poor teams, the fact is they rank amongst the great Leaf defenders. Kaberle ranks second all-time in Leafs defenceman scoring, behind only Hall of Famer Borje Salming while McCabe sits in seventh.
The native of Rakovnik, Czech Republic, Kaberle, recorded 520 points in 878 games with the Buds, playing the third most games as a Leafs defender behind only Salming and the great Tim Horton. And though he left Leafs fans constantly hollering to shoot the puck, he seemingly had a vision on the ice that was unparalleled to anyone else. His 437 assists are the second most only to Salming and following the departure of franchise-player Mats Sundin in 2007-08 it became clear that Kaberle was now the Leafs leader.
McCabe had another side to him unlike Kaberle, but what he lacked in Kaberle’s finess he gained in sheer force and brutality. The Maple Leafs acquired the rugged defenceman in 2000 after having stints in Long Island, Vanoucer, and Chicago. McCabe seemed to find a home in Toronto and the perfect wingman in Kaberle. He was not only relied on for his offensive production, but could also be counted on to lay a thunderous body check. There was nothing quite like McCabe’s double-cheek hits. He was named a second team all-star in 2003-04 and tallied 297 points in 523 games wearing the Maple Leaf.
2005-06 a Year to Remember
The chemistry of the two was undeniable and during 2005-06 season the two had career years. McCabe nearly finished with a point per game recording 19 goals and 68 points in 73 games, both of which were the highest totals of his 16-year career. Meanwhile Kaberle finished just one point behind his ‘D’ partner racking up 58 assists and 67 points while playing in all 82 games, which was also the highest total of his career.
The season though in hindsight was a failure for the Leafs. It marked the first time since 1998-99 that the team had failed to make the playoffs and lead to the dismissal of the late Pat Quinn as head coach of the team. However, despite making the playoffs the two were instrumental in helping the Maple Leafs achieve the second best power play during the season firing at 21.4% with the most powerplay goals with 107.
Their career year was also one of the great seasons for Leafs blueliners. They ranked as the seventh and eight highest single-season totals, while also being the second best total by a Leafs ‘D’-pair since 1976-77 when Ian Turnbull recorded 79 points and Salming hit 78 (the two highest single-season totals by a Leafs defenders).
Hard to Live Up to Them
The Leafs have never been a team chalked full of offensive defenceman, or at least ones who stayed around long enough with the team. To put that into perspective Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf sits 16th all-time in points with 165 during his five years with the team and Cody Franson sits 26th on the list.
Franson is in the midst of his best season to date, but it still only projected to finish with 51 points, which would tie him for the 27th highest single-season mark as a Leaf. The highest single-season total for a Leafs blueliner since the departure of McCabe and Kaberle was Phaneuf’s total of 44 points in 2011-12.
Eventually both McCabe and Kaberle moved on from the Leafs. McCabe was traded to Florida in 2008-09 while Kaberle was traded to Boston during the 2010-11 season. And though McCabe went on to captain the Panthers and Kaberle would win a Stanley Cup with the Bruins (and then bounced around to any other teams), neither were ever able to repeat the great seasons they had while playing with the blue and white.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.