Dissecting the Toronto Maple Leafs, Part Two: General Manager

Derek HarmsworthSenior Writer IMay 15, 2008

In part one we looked at the management, certainly the most dysfunctional in pro sports, and quite possibly the only reason the Leafs are in the shape they are. In part two, we look at who will be the new general manager, and the qualities he must possess.

I'm not telling you something you don't already know when I say that the new GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs has to be a stern one. He has to know what he is getting himself into. He has to stand up to the members of the board, and demand a "Colangelo" type deal, which would see him granted full written autonomy. If he doesn't get that provision, it could be a very long mess for as long as he is in Toronto.  

Back when the Maple Leafs hired John Ferguson Jr, he came into the Leafs organization as a young man with no GM experience. He is a pretty smart guy though, and despite his questionable moves at the helm of the Maple Leafs, he does have a real eye for scouting, and he can talk a good game when it comes to hockey.

Ferguson came in with a plan. He had visions of developing prospects, drafting quality players, and rebuilding Toronto's AHL affiliate so their prospects would have a quality place to grow and become future Maple Leafs. And he was off to a good start. The farm franchise moved to Toronto, to be closer to the big club, which benefited him and the team greatly. He hired Paul Maurice, and later Greg Gilbert to coach the young guys. Ah yes, his plan seemed so merry at the time. 

But no less than one year later he was being constantly pressured by the board, and found himself trading draft picks and young talent, for high-priced, veteran players whose better days were behind them. Ironically, this was the demise of John Ferguson Jr. He left the club, with the prospects not much better off than when he came in. The on-ice team was worse off when Ferguson was relieved of his duties. 

In saying that, Ferguson Jr, was a big boy. He made his own decisions. Most of them were simply not great. But, at the very least he handled it well. After all, bringing a young guy with no experience in to GM the most scrutinized market in all of hockey was kind of like being set up for failure, wasn't it?

So with the failure of the previous GM, a new one must step in. Possibly a regime of more than one man. A president and a GM. And we have to hope they have learned from the past mistakes. 

If you believe that perception is reality, then Dave Nonis would appear to be the front runner.  Nonis met with the Maple Leafs twice this week, and will be returning to Toronto after the holiday weekend to discuss things further with Maple Leafs management.  Nonis does, however, have other job offers on the table that he will surely explore. 

Nonis wouldn't be a bad guy for the job at all. He is a smart guy, having obtained his MBA in the late 1980s. He also got to learn the ropes from some pretty talented guys in Brian Burke and Steve Tambellini. Unfortunately, he was fired from Vancouver because he couldn't trade for offense at the trade deadline.  Despite being pressured to get some offense to the club, Nonis would not budge and deal away the team's young core of players to obtain a rental player.  Which, like I have said before, is precisely the attitude that the Maple Leafs need these days after years of dealing away young talents for a veteran.

There is also the factor that Nonis is the placeholder for Brian Burke, who, according to reports, would surely sign with the Maple Leafs the moment his contract with the Ducks is up at season's end.  Then two scenarios would take place:

One: Nonis stays on as GM, Burke as President or,

Two: Burke as GM, Nonis runs operations, like the post he held in Vancouver when he was teamed with Burke.

Neither situations seem like a bad move, but is the Maple Leafs' infatuation over Brian Burke leading them to cut corners on the GM search?

The latest reports from Nonis' meeting with the Maple Leafs search committee is that Nonis would join the team in the hockey operations role this season.  Interim GM Cliff Fletcher would then hold down the GM job (with Nonis of course assisting him with the daily operations) for another year until Burke becomes available. 

And while that sounds a little weird on the surface, it might actually be a good enough plan to work. You see, despite getting up there in age, Fletcher is a bright hockey guy too. With the help of the younger Nonis, the two of them could captain this team through this season. Nonis and Fletcher, in essence, would be the Co-GMs.  If and when Brian Burke made his way over from Anaheim, than Fletcher would step aside, making way for a Burke and Nonis tandem.

Sounds good, right?

Absolutely, but not everything works out as smoothly as you think it will in your head.  The Maple Leafs should know that full well by now. 

What if Burke decides to stay in Anaheim, and signs a large contract extension with the club?  Well, it's not the end of the world. After all, they still have Dave Nonis and Cliff Fletcher. Nonis would then surely assume the role of General Manager, while Fletcher would stay on as an advisor, and possibly team president. 

But with the hoopla surrounding Nonis and Burke, are the Leafs missing the boat?

Don't get me wrong. Nonis would be a great choice for the job. But it is somewhat alarming that he appears to be the only candidate interviewed so far in what was supposed to be an extensive search. 

What if there are other free agents GMs out there right now who are more than willing to come to Toronto, but the Leafs simply aren't taking the time to interview them?

In fact, what if those people are willing to come to Toronto in a president/co-GM role? What if a bright mind like Doug Armstrong would come to Toronto to help Dave Nonis? Or Neil Smith? He would make a great GM, or a great advisor/team president to Nonis.

And don't forget Doug Gilmour and Joe Nieuwendyk. They are both trying to cut their teeth in management, and would make great advisors to the new Leafs GM, whomever that may be.

I've said it before, and I will say it again. If their choice is Dave Nonis, bring it on, that's fantastic. And no, not because it could land us Brian Burke. 

I would be excited because Nonis is a smart guy, a visionary. He was let go from Vancouver way too soon, and I think he will round himself into a great GM someday soon, hopefully with Toronto.

The red flag just goes up a little bit. I want to make sure the search committee is doing a full, competent job for this team.

Most of all for its fans, who deserve the absolute best.

To read part one of the series click HERE


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