It's unfortunate, but McCauley's last fully healthy season was 2003-2004; during that year, Sharks fans really got to see McCauley play to his potential. Not only was he the team's top penalty killer (nominated for the Selke), he was an effective second-line center able to win face-offs and create offense. A good skater, McCauley gelled on a dynamic line with Nils Ekman and Alex Korolyuk.
I know some of you are probably wondering how the hell a McCauley/Ekman/Korolyuk line could possibly be effective. However, if you saw that line during the last third of the 03-04 season, you know that they emphasized speed and creative passing and were often as much of a threat as Patrick Marleau's line.
I always admired McCauley's game, and during the post-lockout year, it was frustrating because you could see that his knee problems were hampering his effectiveness. At his best, McCauley was a smooth skater who was willing to play the body when necessary but spent his best games using body position and angles to defend while firing off crisp passes at obtuse angles to generate offense.
He was never going to be a point-per-game player, but I always appreciate the guys who combine hustle, skill set, and brains into an effective package. If he'd remained healthy, I'm sure McCauley would have been a perennial Selke candidate. Unfortunately, constant knee problems just took the zip out of his stride, and when you lose an important component such as skating speed and strength, your whole game can fall apart (unless you're Luc Robitaille).
McCauley was noted in Toronto as a great locker room guy, and Ron Wilson tabbed him as one of his ten-game captains during the post-Owen Nolan season. It says a lot about McCauley's character that he actually took it upon himself to tell Wilson that the C should go to Patrick Marleau based on how he saw the rest of the team turning to Patty as their go-to guy.
I always thought he'd make a great coach when he was done with his playing career. After all, the best players-turned-coaches are either the players who can think the game best or the players who can capture the spirit of their teammates as a motivator. I think McCauley had a little bit of both; without the puck, you really didn't notice McCauley -- he didn't land monster hits or cherry pick a la Pavel Bure -- but if you watched him from shift to shift, you'd see a combination of smart positioning, excellent stick work, and hustle. And while he didn't have Mark Messier-esque locker room speeches, McCauley's reputation as a good locker room player started in Toronto and grew greater during his time in teal.
For a lot of people, Alyn McCauley might be a mere footnote in Sharks history but during his brief time in San Jose, his combination of heart, brains, and speed made him one of my favorites. Good luck Alyn; I'm sure we'll see you helping out an NHL team behind the bench someday.