Islanders: The short-lived captaincy of Bryan McCabe

New York Islanders v Toronto Maple Leafs
New York Islanders v Toronto Maple Leafs / Graig Abel/GettyImages

On a day when the New York Rangers are reportedly set to name defenseman Jacob Trouba their captain, we take a look back at the shortest captaincy in New York Islanders history - the 56 games of defenseman Bryan McCabe.

McCabe was drafted 40th overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft and made his debut for the Islanders during the 1995-96 season, playing in all 82 games as a rookie. McCabe scored seven goals and added 16 assists, finishing 11th in the Calder Trophy voting.

Islanders: The short-lived captaincy of Bryan McCabe

After not missing a game through his first two NHL seasons, McCabe started showing leadership traits on and off the ice. Still, it was a surprise when G.M. Mike Milbury decided to name the 22-year-old team captain ahead of the 1997-98 season. ''I am honored and proud to have the 'C' on my jersey,'' McCabe said at the time. ''It is a dream for me to play in the N.H.L., let alone have a 'C' on my jersey. I am going to do the best job I can.''

"I think it is safe to say I have had him targeted since the second day I met him. He is a guy we have seen develop in the locker room. We were a bit concerned about his age. But I've talked with him and he is comfortable with the responsibility."

Islanders G.M. Mike Milbury in 1997

The Islanders team was not without veterans. Travis Green, Rich Pilon, and Dennis Vaske, among others, were in the room and had been around the organization and the league. Asking a 22-year-old to lead a group of players older than him is a precarious situation, especially on a losing team, which the Islanders were, finishing in last place the previous two seasons.

''Leaders come to the forefront no matter if they had the 'C' on their jersey or not,'' said Rick Bowness at the start of his first full season as Islanders head coach. ''It's the passion before the game and at practice, and Bryan has it. There has been a lot thrown at this kid early. It shows everyone the tremendous faith we have in all of our players.''

56 games later: Traded to the Vancouver Canucks

To say things didn't work out would be an understatement.

After just 56 games, a teary-eyed McCabe was shocked to learn he was traded along with Todd Bertuzzi to the Vancouver Canucks for veteran forward Trevor Linden. While McCabe was prematurely given the captaincy, Linden, a two-time All-Star, was stripped of his 'C' when the Canucks signed Mark Messier in free agency. "I am heartsick at times at losing McCabe," said Milbury after making the trade.

He had reason to be.

Lindgren would be named captain of the Islanders and was signed to a deal in the off-season but was traded in May 1999 to the Montreal Canadiens for a first-round pick.

Meanwhile, McCabe (and Bertuzzi) would have long and productive NHL careers. After moving to Toronto and playing the Islanders during the 2002 Stanley Cup Playoffs, McCabe would be named captain of the Florida Panthers in 2009.

"Well, I was young and nervous at the time, McCabe told the Sun Sentinel when asked about his time as Islanders captain. It was a little weird being 22 and trying to lead some guys that were 40. I think I put a little too much pressure on myself to do it all out there. Like I said, I think I've grown a lot. I'm not going to change the way I play and approach things, just be myself."

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Milbury might have correctly identified McCabe as a leader, but he put the 'C' on his more as a symbol that his young team with promising talent was ready to turn a corner and had the right pieces in place. To abandon that plan after less than a season was simply unfair to the player and not an indictment on the type of player or leader McCabe was given the circumstances.