By George Richards
Bryan McCabe walked into the press box at the BankAtlantic Center much like Joe Nieuwendyk did a few years back.
Freshly retired after playing more than 16 seasons in the NHL, McCabe didn’t quite know where to go nor where he should be. The former Panthers captain looked at the directory of assigned seats and boxes in the press box before noticing a familiar face.
“I’m doing some scouting,’’ McCabe said, nattily dressed in a designer suit while carrying a briefcase that hung uncomfortably from his right hand.
McCabe, like Nieuwendyk and many other former NHL players before him, is trying on the front-office side of hockey for size. When Nieuwendyk retired from the Panthers in 2006 because of back issues, he took some time off before accepting Jacques Martin’s offer to work as a special consultant to the Panthers. Nieuwendyk obviously took to it and, after spending time with Florida and the Maple Leafs, was named general manager of the Dallas Stars in 2009.
It’s definitely not a job for everyone.
“It has to be the right person. Just being an ex-player doesn’t mean you can do this,’’ Panthers alternate governor and founder Bill Torrey said. “You have to ask if someone has a willingness to go and sit in cold rinks and watch a kid. Bryan is here, and he and Dale have good conversations. … Bryan is bright, smart, current and respected. We didn’t just bring him in because he’s an ex-player. There’s just so much more to it than that.’’
It’s too early to see if McCabe will find the new gig to his liking, but with the NHL trade deadline forthcoming, the Panthers appreciate his input. McCabe started last season with the Panthers before being traded to the Rangers before the deadline hit, so he knows a little about all but a very few players in the league.
“I’m pretty fresh when it comes to this, so when it comes to players out on the ice, I’m relevant,’’ McCabe said. “I hope to help out when it’s come to that.’’
Panthers general manager Dale Tallon traded McCabe last year after the Panthers’ season fell apart. Tallon has tremendous respect for McCabe and is giving him a chance to see if he likes working on the personnel side.
McCabe has attended the past few Panthers home games and has spoken to Tallon regarding different players the Panthers have interest in. The trade deadline is Monday at 3 p.m., and Florida is looking to add pieces for a postseason run.
“I’ve been in hockey my whole life, so it’s obviously something I would like to stay around if possible,’’ said McCabe, who spent three seasons with the Panthers after coming to South Florida, like Nieuwendyk, from Toronto. “I’ve been fortunate to spend some time with Dale over the past few months, and I hope that’s got my foot in the door.’’
McCabe is the latest former Florida player to join the organization over the past few years. Brian Skrudland, the Panthers first captain in 1993, is the team’s director of player development and works with the team’s prospects.
Cory Stillman, who like McCabe was traded from Florida at last year’s deadline before retiring, was named the team’s assistant director of player development over the summer.
Tallon likes working with people with whom he has had a previous relationship, but also with people he respects and gets along with. McCabe, who seems comfortable being back around his former teammates in Florida, fits that bill.
“It’s important to embrace your past and utilize their knowledge and contemporary attitude to move forward and get where we want to be,’’ Tallon said. “These guys know the players, know the systems.”