Saturday, January 06, 2007

McCabe and the Ragdoll Incident

While reading an article today in the Sun discussing the toughest players in NHL history, it came to me that it’s been a while since I’ve seen Toronto’s “toughest” defenseman in a fight. Or any Leaf defenseman, now that I think of it.

It used to be a fairly regular occurrence that Bryan McCabe would drop the mitts, with a career-high of 13 fights in the 1997-1998 season. But a quick look at McCabe’s stats on revealed that it will soon be the third anniversary (!) of McCabe’s last fight. It’s been almost three years since McCabe last scrapped, after years of going toe-to-toe several times a season. And yeah, that time includes the lockout, but still.

What happened?

If you sit back and think for a second, it's actually very easy to pick out the TSN turning point of McCabe's tough-guy career. On Saturday, January 31, 2004, the Ottawa Senators were visiting the Toronto Maple Leafs, seen live, coast-to-coast, on Hockey Night in Canada. During what turned out to be a fight-filled contest between multiple opponents (remember games like those?) McCabe made the grandly idiotic decision to jab Zdeno Chara in the nuts with his stick. Repeatedly. And then, follow it up with an “intimidating” punch to the face.

Everybody remembers what happened next. Chara hulked-out, grabbing a stunned McCabe by the jersey, spinning the pop-eyed, would-be tough guy in a merry-go-round before throwing him to the ice and delivering a series of full-power punches to McCabe’s face from his knees. The arena was filled with the strange, muted murmurs of a crowd that had just witnessed a complete humiliation of a hometown player. It isn't every day you see a man tossed about in the air like a sack of garbage.

McCabe wasn’t physically hurt from the violation, but the damage was done nonetheless. It was all there to see on the replay, footage that turned an audience of millions into instant mind-readers of Bryan McCabe: “Oh, crap!” A 220-pound hockey player was scared out of his mind.

A month later, McCabe was decisively pummeled by Joe Thornton of all people, in an altercation he did not initiate. From Thornton sees McCabe and goes right after him, shoving him a couple of times and then dropping the gloves. They grab on and Thornton gets the right free and starts throwing landing a couple as McCabe gets loose and lands a few of his own. Thornton then takes control putting McCabe to the ice with a nice right, McCabe gets up only to be put right back down again by another Thornton right.

And, that was that; Zdeno Chara ended McCabe’s fighting career. There’s no doubt about it, in my mind.

McCabe has never started a fight since that night in Toronto three years ago, and had Thornton not chased him around the ice a month later, it’s probable he wouldn't have dropped the gloves with him.

But maybe McCabe actually got lucky in his Chara encounter; a couple of years ago, Chara crushed the face of McCabe teammate Skill Gill, punching Skill’s face so hard, his hand needed stitches to repair the damage. Last year, in the fourth game of the season, Chara squashed the face of Montreal tough guy Raitis Ivanans, and put him on the shelf for the rest of the season.

So McCabe packing in his fighting career was probably for the best. Even his own teammates have no respect for his ability:

TSN's Off the Record: Which teammate thinks he’s a tough player, but really isn’t?

Tie Domi: (instantly) Bryan McCabe.

But - with Toronto’s defense among the worst in the league at holding a lead and preventing goals, is it possible there a relationship between the overall lack of team toughness, and their ability to win games? Is it any coincidence that Toronto’s reputation as a team that did the pushing around began declining after the Chara-McCabe incident? How can it be that Tucker, tiny, 150-pound, firecracker Tucker, is the last vestige of the team that once cowed the Ottawa Senators into submission every time they met?

What about the fact that the heart of Toronto’s defense – McCabe, Kaberle, Kubina, White – are all known as basically soft, puck-moving defensemen?

This Chara guy really seems like a player to have on your team. I wonder why Ottawa felt one of the toughest men in the league, the biggest player who ever played, your automatic shut-down D-man for any troubling situation, who can play an offensive game, was someone who could be replaced. It can’t be a coincidence that Ottawa has struggled defensively this season as well as Toronto.

I also wonder why, when given the choice, Ferguson decided it would be a better idea to overpay the guy Chara emasculated three years ago, instead of landing the big man who took McCabe’s testicles home with him. Chara, who was immediately given the “C” upon his arrival in Boston, and who is playing his routine league-leading minutes for the Bruins.

But maybe this toughness thing is overblown. It's a new NHL, after all. And I heard that fans don't like watching fights anyway.


Blogger Robert L said...

Very interesting observations.

Made me want to see it all over again. YouTube calls it the Ragdoll Incident. The link is:

3:44 PM  
Blogger PPP said...

I think everyone calls it the rag Doll Incident. I could FEEL the air get sucked out of the room of guys I was watching the game with as the fight, ummm beating, happened.

I actually mentioned that the same thing (lack of toughness) was discussed by myself and some friends during the Ottawa game. The sens used to enter games essentially down 1-0 because in their minds they were already guaranteed a beating from the Leafs.

And as a good friend as often remarked, "The Bryan McCabe contract will be an anchor around the neck of the franchise for years".

Long Live the JFJ Era!

3:20 PM  
Blogger Wardo said...

PPP, you're right...that's what it's called. I just didn't want to address it...but it's obvious I can't ignore it.

Therefore, the post title has been changed to reflect history.

McCabe was ragdolled...and that's all there is to it.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Robert L said...

Geez Wardo...thanks to admitting to the title change - I felt incredibly stupid for a second!

Maybe the Aerosmith tune of the same name will get played across the videotrons in rinks where McCabe visits. If only this was junior hockey!

I had a friend who DJ'd for some local teams and got him to play KISS' "Calling Dr. Love" each time the opposing teams trainer went onto the ice - you should have seen the looks once people caught on!

Write more damnit!

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