Welcome back to FlamesNation’s 2021 Flames UFA Targets series, in which our team of writers assesses some of the key players set to become unrestricted free agents on July 28, 2021.
With Mark Giordano out of the picture, the Flames are in desperate need of left-handed defencemen capable of successfully handling big minutes.
Jake McCabe has been an effective play-driving presence on Buffalo’s back-end over his six seasons as a full-time roster player. While he missed most of the 2020–21 campaign with a knee injury, McCabe remains one of the most intriguing defensive options available on the free agent market.

The overview

Jake McCabe
Born Oct. 12, 1993 (27 years old)
Left-handed defenceman
6’1″, 204 pounds
Previous contract: two years, $2.85 million AAV
The Buffalo Sabres drafted McCabe in the second round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He spent the following two years at the University of Wisconsin before turning professional in Buffalo’s organization at the tail-end of the 2013–14 season, appearing in his first seven NHL games.
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McCabe spent most of 2014–15 with the AHL’s Rochester Americans before becoming a fixture with the Sabres in 2015–16. He appeared in 77 games with the club and recorded 14 points while averaging 19:07 of ice-time per night.
After another relatively full season (76 games) in 2016–17, McCabe appeared in 53 and 59 games, respectively, in the 2017–18 and 2018–19 campaigns. Nevertheless, he continued to pile up big minutes and performed well in his own zone when healthy.
McCabe appeared in 66 of the Sabres’ 69 games in 2019–20 as the team’s No. 3 defenceman at even-strength. He averaged 15:50 per game at 5-on-5 to go along with a team-leading 2:16 killing penalties.
In the final year of his contract, McCabe played just 13 games before damaging the ACL, MCL, and meniscus in his right knee. McCabe led all Sabres defensemen in 2020–21 with an average of 2:24 on the PK.
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By the numbers

McCabe is a terrific defensive defenceman who has improved steadily over each of the last four seasons. He’s solidly built and plays a heavy game, having thrown 513 hits in 344 games since 2015–16.
According to Evolving-Hockey, McCabe has provided single-season values of $4.4 million, $4.1 million, $4.2 million, $1.0 million, $4.8 million, and $4.3 million in his six full NHL campaigns. Looking at the rightmost column on the table below, it’s easy to see why.

A selection of Jake McCabe’s play-driving figures in the NHL (data from Natural Stat Trick, all 5v5)
Season
Individual Shots/60
Individual Points/60
Individual Scoring Chances/60
Individual Expected Goals/60
On-Ice Relative
Goals %
On-Ice Rel Expected Goals % 
On-Ice Relative
xG For/60
On-Ice Relative
xG Against/60
2015–16
2.72
0.62
1.51
0.12
+6.32
+1.76
+0.06
-0.09
2016–17
2.81
0.70
1.75
0.14
+4.75
-2.19
-0.04
+0.17
2017–18
3.00
0.73
1.20
0.10
+4.64
+0.46
-0.07
-0.14
2018–19
3.71
0.79
2.19
0.16
-1.18
+4.03
+0.08
-0.30
2019–20
3.94
0.68
1.86
0.11
-8.27
+3.57
-0.12
-0.46
2020–21
4.16
0.83
2.49
0.18
+30.56
+19.99
+0.48
-1.14
Note: In the second-last column, a positive number indicates the Sabres had better offensive results with McCabe on the ice than without him. In the last column on the right, a negative number indicates the Sabres allowed fewer chances with McCabe on the ice than without him.
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McCabe has been forced to endure through some extremely difficult seasons during his time with the Sabres. Nevertheless, he’s been a significantly positive presence in his own zone and has helped Buffalo become a slightly more respectable defensive team during his tenure.
The Sabres finished 13th in the Eastern Conference in the 2019–20 season but did reasonably well at preventing their opponents from generating high-danger chances.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Buffalo allowed just 2.19 expected goals per 60 at 5-on-5 that season (the 11th-best mark in the NHL); McCabe was a big driver of that success, with Buffalo’s opponents only mustering 2.08 xGF/60 during his shifts at even-strength. Only four NHL teams (Minnesota, Boston, Columbus, Tampa Bay) bettered McCabe’s on-ice xGA/60 rate over the entire 2019–20 season.
Per Evolving-Hockey‘s model, McCabe posted the second-best defensive expected goals above replacement (xGAR) figure in the entire NHL in 2019–20. Only Minnesota stalwart Jonas Brodin bested McCabe’s 9.1 defensive xGAR in his last full season.
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Of course, McCabe’s recent (and severe) knee injury is a concern. In February, the Sabres announced McCabe’s recovery timeline would be “approximately six to eight months.” With the uncertainty surrounding his health, McCabe may have to settle for a smaller contract as an unrestricted free agent to prove he can still contribute at the same level.

2021 Flames UFA Targets