John Ferguson’s dismissal as GM of the Maple Leafs Tuesday startled only those who very recently awoke from a coma.
With Toronto at the bottom end of the NHL standings, few elite prospects in the system, and little salary cap room to work with, Ferguson’s exit was assured, and it was a sincere disgrace the franchise allowed him to twist in the wind before ending his reign.
Firing Ferguson was the easy part. Now comes the true test of an ownership that claims to have learned its lesson after years of sitting in the corner with a proverbial dunce cap on.
It starts with Cliff Fletcher, now the Leafs’ interim GM – and, let’s face it, at age 72, the interim everything – but it doesn’t end with him.
He’ll be a part of the search process for a full-time GM that will begin in the summer, but the rebuilding period Toronto will require means Fletcher’s successor will be dealing with the ramifications of his decisions for years.
Fletcher will have no shortage of suggestions on how to save this lilting ship as quickly as possible. And, just to ensure there’s no shortage, here are four ways to make the team better:
1. Trade Mats Sundin. We’ve been over this before, but let’s repeat it once more: Sundin is the best player on the team. He’s also 37 and will be an unrestricted free agent come summer. Dealing him to a contender for prospects and/or draft picks will greatly help replenish Toronto’s talent-barren roster.
2. Trade other Leafs, too. Sundin will garner the best return on the trade market, but the Leafs can’t be satisfied dealing only their captain. Tomas Kaberle, Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina must be offered around the league – and any reasonable offer must be accepted.
3. Demote underachievers to the American Hockey League. Riding the buses may be the only way left to threaten Toronto’s sub-par performers, and the Leafs need to drop that hammer to show they mean business. Starting with Andrew Raycroft.
4. Hire (and hold on to) a savvy second-in-command. Part of the reason it took so long to fire Ferguson was because he didn’t have a lieutenant capable of stepping in at a moment’s notice. Well, he did in Craig Button, but that relationship went all Britney/K-Fed in a hurry. Whoever gets the full-time gig needs a proven assistant GM, not just to bounce decisions off, but also as a safeguard should anything (else) go wrong.