Generation Burke: Ferguson's Mistakes All but Gone on New-Look Leafs
Generation JFJ was a disaster.
John Ferguson, Jr., began his tenure as the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Aug. 29, 2003, a decision that was questioned right from the start because of his inexperience at the job and because he replaced an older, more experienced Pat Quinn.
His time with the Leafs was widely determined to be a failure because of his "win now by selling the future" attitude. Too many of his trades turned out to be busts for the Leafs, while the other team involved came out as a huge winner.
Current GM Brian Burke had a tough task when he came to town last season, but with the major trades he made with the Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks on Sunday, Burke has all but emptied the team of the mistakes that Ferguson made in his five seasons in Toronto.
A look back at what Ferguson did in his time with the team might bring back terrible memories, so grab your barf bag now. But comparing Ferguson's impotence to Burke's work a season-and-a-half into his time in Toronto might bring some colour back into your cheeks.
Right off the bat, Ferguson won by adding veteran players who could provide leadership and experience for a team that was peaking, a playoff lock at the time.
His first moves involved signing Joe Nieuwendyk to a one-year deal and trading for New York Rangers' defenseman Brian Leetch in exchange for Maxim Kondratiev and Jarkko Immonen, as well as a first-round pick in 2004 and a second-round pick in 2005.
Those picks didn't turn out to be anything special, as the first-rounder ended up being Kris Chucko—not that the Leafs would have necessarily made that same pick—and just to make you grit your teeth a little bit more, just five picks after Chucko was selected, Washington took defenseman Mike Green 29th overall.
Leetch played 15 games as a Leaf that season before moving on to the Boston Bruins in the offseason.
Just a few days later, Mar. 9, 2004 after picking up Chad Kilger off waivers, JFJ traded a fourth-round pick to Carolina for grizzled veteran Ron Francis. That pick turned out to be Jared Boll, who is in his currently in his third season with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Francis went on to play 12 games with the Leafs in the regular season, scoring 10 points (3G, 7A) and 12 points in the playoffs, before retiring in the lockout year.
In 2005, Ferguson started things with a bang, acquiring Jeff O'Neill from Carolina for a 2006 fourth-round pick. O'Neill went on to play two seasons with the Leafs (144 games) scoring 39 goals and 80 points in that time. That fourth-round pick turned out to be Reto Berra, a goaltender currently under contract with St. Louis.
In August 2005, after resigning fan-favourite Tie Domi, Ferguson took a big gamble signing the lumbering Jason Allison who hadn't played for two seasons because of back trouble. Though he did score 60 points in 66 games, he was a minus-18 and proved to be much too slow for the "new" NHL.
Just a few days later he went on to sign Eric Lindros to a one-year deal, but the oft-injured aging Lindros lived up to his reputation and only played 33 games in blue and white. Yet another veteran player signed that turned out to do nothing for the club.
One thing, maybe the only good thing, Ferguson did during his time in Toronto was re-sign Tomas Kaberle for a great price—a five-year, $21.25 million deal.
But just three months later, after missing the playoffs for the first time in Pat Quinn's time as coach, Ferguson fired Quinn and replaced him with Paul Maurice (who coached the Leafs' AHL affiliate, Toronto Marlies, the year before). A firing that had been rumoured to be in the works the minute JFJ came to town.
Then came June 24, 2006, a day Leafs fans want to forget. That was the day that had Andrew Raycroft come to Toronto from Boston in exchange for Tuukka Rask. Raycroft did go on to win 37 games that season, a Leafs record, but he did play 72 games in all. He only went on to play in 19 games in the next season before moving on to the Colorado Avalanche.
Rask has gone on to all but push out reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas out of his starting job this season and has some of the best numbers in the league (.925 SV%, 2.13 GAA).
Later that season Ferguson picked up Boyd Devereaux, who started off playing with the Marlies, but when brought up to the Leafs was a solid player every night. He didn't play long for the team, but was a nice role player while it lasted.
Then during the free agent boom of 2006, Ferguson signed Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina to multi-year contracts. Kubina was given a massive four-year, $20 million contract, which was far too much money for the player that was Kubina. Neither player turned out to be what they had hoped, as Gill was just a lug for the Leafs, and Kubina, though solid, never played as good as well as he could have.
In February of 2007, in a transaction of sheer desperation, the Leafs traded Brendan Bell and a second-round pick in 2008 to Phoenix for Yanic Perreault and a fifth-round pick. Perreault played 17 games with the Leafs that season and had five points.
That second-round pick turned into a potential gem for the Coyotes. In yet another disaster of a trade, Phoenix selected the fourth Staal brother, Jared, with that pick. If the youngest Staal comes anywhere close to being what his three older brothers are, he will be considered a stud in the NHL. Yet another "what if" for Leaf fans, thanks to JFJ.
In the summer of 2007, Ferguson finally gave up on Raycroft as the starting goalie and traded a first- and fourth-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell. We all know how Toskala turned out, while Bell had to serve a lengthy suspension and jail time upon arriving in Toronto. That worked well.
That first-round pick was later traded to St. Louis who selected Lars Eller 13th overall. The Leafs didn't have a draft pick that season until the third round (74th overall), where they took Dale Mitchell.
Then in July 2007, the team signs Jason Blake to a five-year, $20 million deal after the winger was coming off a 40-goal season with the Islanders. The contract was gold for Blake, but he only had 50 goals total in his two-and-a-half seasons in Toronto before being shipped out to Anaheim on Sunday.
We can admit it now, Blake was a waste of money—doesn’t matter how hard he worked.
Finally, after being publicly called "a mistake" by Richard Peddie, Ferguson was fired on Jan. 22, 2008.
His inexperience was a worry before he began his time with Toronto, and when the dust settled, it was clear that JFJ really had no clue how to build a hockey team. He simply took what Pat Quinn had built over the years and traded young players and draft picks away for old veterans who seldom worked out in the long run.
He ran the team into the ground, and it's Brian Burkes job to dig them back out, and Sunday was another step closer to getting the Leafs back to respectability. It is by no means over—not anywhere close—but with the additions of Jonas Gustavsson, Phil Kessel, Jean-Sebastian Giguere, and Dion Phaneuf, he is certainly well on his way.
Sure, Burke may have given up first-round picks for Kessel, and some fans will never let that one go, but he did it for a player who is only 21 years old and has two years of NHL experience.
Kessel is a prolific scorer and is better than Taylor Hall or any of the other potentials right now. Yes, in the future it may work out differently, but nobody knows what will happen. Getting Kessel is like drafting a 21-year-old who already is a certified NHL sniper.
You may never get over that one, but it makes sense—it really does.
Burke was criticized earlier this year for not doing enough for this team that continues to be pathetic in the standings, but these moves on Sunday showed that he has no intentions of being a basement-dweller for long.
He cleaned up a lot of Ferguson's mess in just one day. Not bad at all.
The true test will now come as Burke attempts to rebuild the core of the forwards through trades and free agency. But if there's one thing we all learned on Sunday morning about Brian Burke, it's that he intends on putting his stamp on this team and turning them into a winner sooner rather than later.
Generation Burke has officially begun. Buckle up.
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