Jake McCabe: Buffalo Sabres Shutdown Defender

Jake McCabe

While he only appeared in 13 games in 2020-21, Jake McCabe has shown the NHL that he is a pivotal shutdown defender. With his pending status as an unrestricted free agent, McCabe is set to hit the free agency this July. The steady defenceman has spent his entire career with the Buffalo Sabres, recording 18 goals and 77 points during his 353 game experience with the club. He was drafted in the second round, 44th overall in the 2012 NHL entry draft by the Sabres.

Jake McCabe: Pivotal Shutdown Defender

Analytical Darling

While he didn’t stand out on the stat sheet, McCabe makes up for this in the analytics department. Over the past two regular seasons, McCabe ranks 7th in defensive goals above replacement (GAR) among the league’s players. This means he’s on the ice for fewer goals than more than 90% of the NHL. Additionally, he also places 16th in even-strength defensive GAR. Only players like Charlie McAvoy and Adam Pelech rank higher in defensive GAR than McCabe. These analytics show an elite defensive potential with the Sabres defenceman.

In addition to his defensive GAR, McCabe also provides value in the expected goals category. He ranks 6th among players in expected defensive GAR (xDEF) which is a vital stat. Expected defensive goals above replacement (xDEF) become key because skaters have no control over the probability that a shot will result in a goal against. Goalies can be very random, so a goal against might not always put the players on the ice at fault. Expected goal models separate skaters from the goalie they play in front of, giving a more accurate understanding of valuable defenders.

Jake McCabe Defensive GAR over the last two seasons (2019-21)

EVD: 8.6 (16th among league skaters)

DEF: 11.3 (7th among league skaters)

xEVD: 10.3 (7th among league skaters)

xDEF: 12 (6th among league skaters)

(All data from Evolving Hockey)

Jake McCabe’s Offensive Holes

Although McCabe displays incredible talent on the defensive side of the puck, he falls short when it comes to offense. Over the past 2 seasons, McCabe has posted negative offensive value with the Buffalo Sabres. He’s recorded an even-strength offensive value (EVO) of -0.7 and a total offensive value (OFF) of -0.8. This means the Sabres score less while he’s on the ice. In addition to his substandard offensive metrics, McCabe has recorded a positive expected offensive value (xOFF) of 2.7.

From these metrics, we can tell McCabe has been surrounded by bad shooting and finishing talent. When a player’s expected offensive value is much higher than his actual offensive value, they’re considered either unlucky or surrounded by inferior talent. If McCabe were to join a team like the Colorado Avalanche, it’s almost certain he would see a major increase in his offensive value. In addition, McCabe has not recorded more than 20 points in a regular-season so far during his career.

Next Season’s Role for Jake McCabe

The left-handed defenceman is best suited for a role in a team’s bottom four. If placed in the right environment, McCabe can thrive with an offensive defenceman, or even on a team’s top penalty kill unit. He will most likely look to take a short-term deal around two or three years long in duration. Something along the lines of a $2-4 million AAV seems most realistic. No matter where McCabe decides to sign, he will be an asset of great value, possibly going down as one of the best signings in this year’s free-agent class.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images

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