Commentary

Forced to sidelines, McCauley hoping for new start in 2008

Updated: September 4, 2007, 2:26 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Alyn McCauley wishes he were out looking for a job.

But knocking on doors is pretty much out of the question right now for the veteran center and one-time finalist for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward.

It's the crutches, you know, that make it hard to give a good impression, not to mention take a draw or back check an opponent.

Alyn McCauley
AP Photo/John Ulan,CPAlyn McCauley, right, has had three knee surgeries in just over a year.

McCauley is one week removed from the third surgery on his left knee in just over a year. This time, the surgery was performed in Cleveland by renowned athletic surgeon Dr. Anthony Miniaci, who was once the medical consultant to the NHL Players' Association and now does work for the Cleveland Browns, among others.

"I'm hoping for a different outcome," the affable McCauley told ESPN.com in a recent interview from his family's home in the Los Angeles area.

For a time, McCauley appeared to be the poster boy for the old adage that good things come to those who wait, and bust their butts.

The one-time player of the year in major junior hockey and two-time gold-medal winner with Canada at the World Junior Championship had been drafted by New Jersey in 1995, but traded to Toronto before he played an NHL game. The native of eastern Ontario worked hard in Toronto, trying to get an opportunity under former coach Pat Quinn.

During the Leafs' surprise run to the 2002 Eastern Conference finals, McCauley was a force, chipping in 15 points in 20 postseason games for an injury-depleted Leafs roster. But by the end of the next season, McCauley was back logging fourth-line minutes and was dealt along with Brad Boyes and a first-round draft pick to San Jose for Owen Nolan.

McCauley clicked in San Jose and scored 20 goals in 2003-04 for the surging Sharks. He was plus-23 and earned a Selke nomination

After injuries hampered his play during the 2005-06 season, McCauley had offseason knee surgery. Then, as a free agent last summer, McCauley was swooped up by former Sharks GM Dean Lombardi, who brought him to Los Angeles with a three-year, $6 million deal.

McCauley hoped to be back at 100 percent by mid-October, but doctors discovered another problem with the knee. So, he had another surgical procedure on Oct. 10.

"It's never been the same thing over again," McCauley said of the procedures.

By season's end, he had played only 10 games.

"I was just never strong enough to do what I needed to do," McCauley said. "I just pushed it too hard, too soon."

Quietly, around the time of this year's draft in Columbus, Ohio, the Kings bought out the balance of McCauley's contract. Two months later, he was in Cleveland and back on crutches, his future uncertain.

"I wouldn't say it was a huge surprise," McCauley said of the buyout. "I would have liked things to be different. It's a really tough pill to swallow."

Finally getting his career on the path he wanted only to have it derailed so quickly has tested his patience and confidence.

"You work that hard and to see things start to take off, and then it's like, throw the brake on, I was like, 'Oh, you've got to be kidding me,'" he said.

The father of two who turned 30 in late May has always been regarded as among the most thoughtful and considerate of players on and off the ice. For a diligent worker who has been ridiculously hard on himself, the uncertainty is galling.

He'll be on crutches for the next five weeks or so with rehabilitation, including a lot of pool exercises, to follow. The best-case scenario is he'd be ready to play in six months. Maybe a team looking for some veteran help come playoff time would be interested. If not, he'll bide his time until next year at training camp.

"It'll be better in some ways, not having a team looking over my shoulder [at the rehab progress]," McCauley said.

He is thinking about taking some university classes and maybe talking to the NHL Players' Association (he used to be a player rep) about one of its new field representative positions. "I don't really know enough about it, but it's piqued my interest," McCauley said.

He recently learned Bryan Berard, a former teammate in Toronto, had just signed on for a tryout on Long Island. He figures that could be him next year. He's also been in contact with good friend and former teammate and current free agent Mike Johnson.

"I'm in a little different place or state of mind," McCauley said. "[Johnson's] really looking for work."

McCauley? He's hoping to get better so he can start looking for work.

"I can't change my knee or change that part of my life," he said.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.