Are John Ferguson's days as Leafs' GM numbered?
That the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the verge of firing their GM is completely understandable and predictable. The John Ferguson era in Toronto has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster, chock-full of terrible player personnel decisions that will take his eventual successor years to remedy.
Of course the Leafs are going to fire Ferguson. That makes sense. What doesn't is the bevy of names that have surfaced as potential replacements.
If recent reports are to be believed and the Leafs are intent on handing the keys to the kingdom to the likes of Glenn Healy, Mark Messier, Joe Nieuwendyk, Colin Campbell, Doug Gilmour or Steve Yzerman, then they're basically on the verge of making a blunder every bit as monumental as the one they made when they hired Ferguson to run their hockey operations in the summer of 2003.
So let's get this straight, shall we? The organization that just last summer tried to hire a babysitter for its GM because he lacked the requisite savvy and experience after four years of doing the job, is thinking of installing somebody who has no experience at the job at all?
This, dear readers, would be complete lunacy and that's saying something for the Leafs, an organization with a long and proud history of stupidity and incompetence.
The only one of these people who has any kind of experience is Campbell, but he was a coach and for the past decade has spent his time running the league's hockey operations department. That hardly makes him qualified to turn the fortunes of a team around. Healy, a good friend of Leafs board chairman Larry Tanenbaum, is a top-notch broadcaster who has zero experience in management. Gilmour hated scouting so much the Leafs changed his job description and Nieuwendyk has less than a year's experience working for the Florida Panthers, one of the worst-run organizations in the NHL.
What the Leafs need now more than ever is a competent hockey man who can come in and clean this situation up, a person with a solid hockey background who will be given unfettered authority to execute a rebuilding program that has vision and foresight as its building blocks.
What they don't need are former players who have never sat in an arena in Moose Jaw or negotiated a contract, but think they can do the job because they had what it took to be a star on the ice.
That's not to say Nieuwendyk or Healy or Messier or Yzerman or Gilmour might not become a stellar GM in the league someday. After all, Bob Clarke stepped off the ice and into the GM's office in Philadelphia. But he'll be the first to say he didn't have a clue what it took to be a GM and only survived because he was mentored for three years by former Flyers GM Keith Allen. Who's going to do that in Toronto? If Healy is the president and Messier the GM, how is one of those guys going to teach the other?
Let teams like the New York Islanders do this kind of thing. The stakes in Toronto are simply too high for them to hand the reins to these guys. Now that Brett Hull has been named co-GM in Dallas, others will consider doing the same kind of thing, but Hull is no more the GM in Dallas at the moment than the equipment guys. Les Jackson, the other co-GM, is the one doing the real work when it comes to making hockey decisions.
What the Leafs should do is fire Ferguson immediately to keep him from doing more damage in a desperate bid to save his job. Other management types around the NHL report Ferguson is putting feelers out for a number of his players, including the likes of Nik Antropov, Jason Blake, Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker, Pavel Kubina, Andrew Raycroft and Hal Gill.
Trading any one of those players would likely be a case of addition by subtraction, but GMs also know it will be only a matter of time before Ferguson gets more desperate and succumbs to the temptation to deal players other GMs really want, namely the likes of Tomas Kaberle, Alexander Steen, Matt Stajan or prospect Nikolai Kulemin.
What the Leafs need more than anything is a competent interim GM who will make the kinds of short-term moves that need to be made. The only problem is that person doesn't exist in their organization.
Good luck on that front.
They're going to need it because, sooner or later, somebody in that front office is going to have to deal Mats Sundin. If the Leafs continue to freefall, every indication is that Sundin will indeed play the Ray Bourque card and quietly ask to be traded to a contender.
Dealing Sundin is the kind of move that could allow the blue and white to begin their journey back to respectability and if Ferguson's trades and signings are any indication, he is not qualified to do it.
But somehow the Leafs have to get through this season and go out this summer and try to get a real hockey man from another organization. Brian Burke was in the press box of the Air Canada Centre last week and didn't look out of place. Ken Holland, who was originally drafted by the Maple Leafs, would be an outstanding choice and it’s not inconceivable he could be had since Detroit has Jim Nill and Yzerman waiting in the wings.
Better yet, if the Leafs are intent on being bold, they could hire someone such as David Conte, who has been Lou Lamoriello's right hand man in New Jersey for decades and is probably more qualified to run a hockey department than half the GMs out there today. There is no guarantee Conte would be a great GM, but he has earned the right to find out and he'd be infinitely better than any of the names that are currently being floated about.
But the Leafs seem intent on making a big splash with a big name right now and if they do so, you can continue to project their Stanley Cup drought in decades, not years.
It's typical of Toronto to try to attack something with that kind of short-term thinking.
The Leafs aren't alone in that kind of approach, but attacking the symptom instead of disease accomplishes nothing. In Washington, changing coaches has had a very positive early effect, but it won't erase years of bad management and scouting and the Capitals will likely fall back into their losing ways.
And so will the Maple Leafs, unless they proceed properly and hire the right person.
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