Karpovtsev Saga Ends

By Randy Nicholson
Those mysterious forces that have moved so many from Toronto to the Windy City during the past several months have now borne Alexander Karpovtsev away. In truth, Potsie’s fate was all but sealed when he announced to the assembled Leafs’ brass last spring that he intended to become an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the 2000/2001 season. Several reasonably generous multi-year offers from the club in the ensuing months failed to alter the big Russian’s mindset. Thus, it was certainly no surprise when the Maple Leafs dealt Karpovtsev to Chicago today, bringing to an end a very long and sometimes acrimonious impasse. It has been reported that the Black Hawks have already agreed on a new 4 year, 12 million dollar deal with their new blueliner.

With the regular season fast approaching and the team’s other defenders performing at something less than top form of late, Toronto clearly was not in a mood to wait much longer. That being the case, it is rather amazing that the Leafs were able to engineer such a useful trade. In exchange for a 30 year old, free agency bound, often injured, slow footed, stay-at-home defenseman Toronto receives a highly regarded 25 year-old replacement.

Bryan McCabe was named captain of a woeful Islander squad at the tender age of 22 – probably long before he was ready to properly deal with such responsibility. Many have also noted that he has now been forced to call no fewer than 4 different NHL cities home. Though this is unquestionably true, McCabe was specifically targeted by Vancouver and then by Chicago when each earlier deal was consummated. Recently, I suspect that his star had fallen somewhat in Chicago and that new Hawks GM Mike Smith wanted to replace the St. Catherine’s native with a player born somewhere (much) farther to the east.

What kind of player have the Leafs acquired? The “Hockey Scouting Report” by Sherry Ross (which is, in my view, the very best published source of in-depth player analysis available) summarizes McCabe’s game in this way:

“… he knows when to jump into the attacking zone. He has a heavy, major-league slap shot. He moves the puck well and can run an NHL power play. Defensively, McCabe plays well positionally and doesn’t get mesmerized by the puck. He kills penalties well and blocks shots … he is big and strong and shows leadership … McCabe is an ideal number three defenseman …”

Are the Maple Leafs now set? Sources had earlier indicated to me that a trade for a key defenseman was in the works and McCabe’s name wasn’t the one that was mentioned. Although I heartily endorse today’s transaction, don’t be too surprised if Pat Quinn pulls the trigger yet again before the season begins on Saturday.

Stay tuned.