Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson. (CPimages/Derek Oliver)
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment picked up the 2007-2008 option on the contract of the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. "I plan to be here a long time," Ferguson said as he spoke with reporters in the NHL team's dressing room. "This is good for now."
Head coach Paul Maurice is under contract until at least 2009. MLSE president and CEO Richard Peddie was asked why a long-term deal for Ferguson was not put in place.
"(The option) always existed in the contract," Peddie said during an interview. "We're very pleased with the progress the team has shown and we felt this was a good middle ground.
"We're optimistic we'll be talking about an extension during the summer."
The Leafs missed the playoffs last spring, and it is hard to believe two misses in a row would be tolerated. But Peddie said there is more to consider.
"The Leafs and our fans have very high expectations," said Peddie. "That's one of the ways we judge our general manager and our coaches - whether we get into the playoffs and contend for the Stanley Cup - but it's not the only consideration.
"There can be injuries and you sit down and weigh a lot of things. It's not as simple as making the playoffs, but that's a pretty critical one."
Ferguson, 39, is in his fourth season as Leafs GM. The team had the second-best points total in the NHL's Eastern Conference going into its road game against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.
Ferguson has been riding a roller-coaster of emotions recently.
John Ferguson Sr., 68, began out-patient radiation treatment for bone cancer on Tuesday at Toronto's Prince Margaret Hospital. He and his wife Joan are staying with their son and his wife Stephanie, who is expecting a fourth child. He was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in September 2005.
The junior Ferguson's decisions this year to promote Maurice in place of Pat Quinn, buy out Ed Belfour and Tie Domi, trade for Andrew Raycroft, and sign free agents Mike Peca, Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina have all had positive results so far. Also, an enhanced farm system has led players such as Ian White, Brendan Bell and John Pohl into roles as NHL regulars this season.
Since Ferguson was hired on Aug. 29, 2003, the Leafs had 98 wins, 63 losses, 10 ties and 15 overtime/shootout losses. His .594 winning percentage is the highest of the 12 men who have served as GM of the Leafs.
His roster priorities will be re-signing captain Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker and Peca, he said.
The league's US$44-million salary cap will rise with increased revenues. While league-wide attendance is down 2.9 per cent, revenues are up five per cent, he said.
If he was disappointed he didn't get a long-term deal, he didn't let on in front of the cameras. He said all the right things.
"The greatest thing about this is that I've got 12 more months on my deal than I had yesterday," he said. "That's a positive.
"But more than that, it's a real strong demonstration that we're on the right track."
If Raycroft continues to play at a high level, if Sundin returns soon from the injury that has kept him out since Nov. 6, and if the Leafs don't go into a mid-winter swoon similar to the one that killed their chances last season, he'll get the job security he deserves but doesn't take for granted.
"This is a result-oriented business in hockey's biggest market on hockey's greatest stage," he said. "I've always said there'd be no better place to win than right here.
"The experience has been tremendous. I feel very privileged to be here and be what I feel is a caretaker of public trust. The Maple Leafs in this town, in this province and across Canada, really in the entire hockey world . . . it's a venerable name built on a great tradition and success. I'm trying to return that here."
Ferguson came to the Leafs from the St. Louis Blues, who named him vice-president and director of hockey operations in February 2001. He was assistant GM of the Blues during the five preceding years.
He was a member of the Ottawa Senators scouting staff from 1993 to 1996, and he also earned a law degree and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1996.
Ferguson played four AHL seasons in the Ottawa and Montreal organizations. He was born in Montreal, where his father earned five Stanley Cup rings with the Canadiens. His father later was GM of the New York Rangers and the Winnipeg Jets. He lives in the Windsor region and is a consultant for the San Jose Sharks.