MIAMI -- Bryan McCabe already has a new home in South Florida, where his 3-year-old daughter started pre-kindergarten classes in a new school Tuesday and he spent part of the day unpacking moving boxes.
The Maple Leafs traded the veteran defenseman and a fourth-round draft pick to the Panthers on Tuesday for defenseman Mike Van Ryn, ridding Toronto of its biggest contractual obligation and finally giving McCabe closure in the sense that he now knows where he'll be when camp opens later this month.
"It's always nice to have this part of it done," McCabe said. "It's not fun being in limbo when you have two kids and a wife. We're really excited to get down here."
McCabe waived his no-trade clause to allow the deal to go through. McCabe's willingness to be traded was a change in philosophy as it was earlier stated that the Maple Leafs would have to buy out his contract to get rid of him.
The 33-year-old McCabe had been one of the longest-serving Maple Leafs after being acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 2, 2000. He developed in Toronto after bouncing from the New York Islanders to the Vancouver Canucks to the Blackhawks. He recently became a scapegoat for fans who thought his performance dipped after he signed a five-year, $28.75-million contract in 2005-06.
"It's a tough place to play, especially when you're losing," McCabe said of Toronto. "But when you're winning, it's one of the best places to play. It comes with the territory. I've got a big contract."
His annual salary cap hit for the next three seasons will be $5.75 million even though the Panthers will only have to pay him $4.15 million per season on the front-heavy deal. The Maple Leafs are on the hook for a $2 million bonus that was due Monday, and that money was one of the issues that held up completion of the deal.
"It gives us some more offense from our back end," Panthers general manager Jacques Martin said. "Bryan brings experience. When you look back at his time in Toronto, his ability to play on the power play, his shot, and in the dressing room he brings some leadership skill to help a lot of our younger defensemen."
Van Ryn has two years remaining on his contract and will earn $3.35 million each season. His cap hit is only $2.9 million, allowing the Leafs to free up $11.45 million over the next three years.
Maple Leafs general manager Cliff Fletcher has been busy in remaking a team that hasn't reached the playoffs since before the 2004-05 lockout. Earlier this summer, Fletcher bought out the contracts of forward Darcy Tucker and backup goalie Andrew Raycroft, and waived center Kyle Wellwood.
"It's part of what we're trying to do moving forward here," Fletcher said. "We wish him well."
It also appears that the Leafs will start a season without Mats Sundin in the lineup for the first time since 1993.
The Panthers, who haven't made the playoffs since 2000 and haven't won a postseason series since reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 1996, have been equally busy. Among the notable moves, captain Olli Jokinen was traded to Phoenix for defensemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton, two-time Stanley Cup champion forward Cory Stillman was added in free agency, Jay Bouwmeester was re-signed for another season and now Martin got the blueliner he may have coveted most.
"I've been here for three years now, and over the three years I've felt our defense needed to improve," Martin said. "With the addition of Ballard and Boynton and now Bryan, we've looked at the better teams in the league, we felt that was an area we needed to improve and I'm definitely excited about this team. I think we have more pieces of the puzzle in the right places."
McCabe missed almost two months last season due to a broken hand. He played in 54 games, scoring five goals and 23 points, and said he hopes he can be part of the core that pushes Florida back into the postseason.
"I really, truly believe they have an opportunity to absolutely make the playoffs and hopefully make a run for the ultimate prize," McCabe said.
His best two seasons in Toronto came immediately before and after the lockout. In 2003-04, McCabe put up 53 points -- including 16 goals -- and a plus-22 rating. He finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting as the NHL's top defenseman.
He had a career-best 68 points (19 goals, 49 assists) the season after the lockout and played for Canada at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
Van Ryn spent the past four seasons with Florida, where he twice reached a career-high 37 points. The 29-year-old defenseman played just 20 games last season because of a wrist injury.