Maples Leafs Woes: Change Starts with John Ferguson
The puck dropped on the 2007-2008 NHL season just over a month ago, and already the heads are starting to roll.
First was Bob Hartley in Atlanta, after the Thrashers started the year 0-6.
Now, it's Dallas Stars GM Doug Armstrong, who was fired on Tuesday by Stars' owner Tom Hicks after the team started the season with a .500 record.
In the new NHL, a storied franchise like the Stars simply can't tolerate a substandard start to a season after three consecutive early playoff exits.
Unless you're the Toronto Maple Leafs, apparently.
The Leafs have opened the year 7-7-5, and haven't made the playoffs since the lockout.
And yet, perplexingly, GM John Ferguson Jr. enjoys the "full confidence" of Richard Peddie and Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment.
How strong is the case against JFJ? Were this a court proceeding, the following would be admitted as evidence for the prosecution:
Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury....
Bryan McCabe was signed for $28.75M over five years in 2006. Though he delivered in the points column last season, McCabe's hot/cold chart reads like a seismograph printout during a volcanic eruption.
This season has seen McCabe go from power-play quarterback to defensive liability—especially during overtime, where he has been directly responsible for two losses and is a -5 on the year.
Yannic Perreault, a UFA at the beginning of the 2005-2006 season, signed with the Phoenix Coyotes and rode a hot start to a spot in the All-Star Game. A month later, JFJ came sniffing, offering up Brendan Bell and a fifth-round pick for the aging pivot.
Perreault scored five points in 17 games for Toronto and was released as a UFA at season's end. The Leafs did not make the playoffs.
Calle Johansson, the aging Swedish defenseman, was signed by the Leafs in March of 2004 after not playing at all the previous season. He played eight games, notched six assists...and never played in the NHL again.
Mikael Tellqvist, once the Leafs' goaltender of the future, was deemed expendable by JFJ before the 2006-2007 season. He was traded for a pittance to Phoenix, where he has posted a better GAA and save percentage than either Raycroft or Vesa Toskala.
When Chris Pronger asked to be dealt from the Oilers, Kevin Lowe and JFJ had a deal all but in place that would have sent Pronger and a draft pick to the Leafs for Tomas Kaberle, Matt Stajan, and Carlo Colaiacovo.
JFJ's sticking point was Colaiacovo, though, and the deal didn't happen.
Pronger went on to figure prominently on the Cup-winning Anaheim team. Colaiacovo sustained yet another serious injury and missed 34 games last year, and has yet to play in '07-'08.
The prosecution rests.
The problem, of course, isn't just JFJ's ineptitude—it's the complacency of Leafs ownership.
Tom Hicks sent a clear message to the league in firing Armstrong in Dallas: The Stars won't settle for anything less than excellence.
The folks at Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, however, are just fine with the Leafs' middling performance, and feel there's no need for "drastic measures."
These are dark days in Leafs Nation. Another year of Ferguson at the helm, and fans may get nostalgic for the Harold Ballard days.
Sadly, until Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment aspires to something more than mediocrity, JFJ won't have to worry about his job.
For the Bleacher Report, I'm Andrew Castaneda.
With files from Wikipedia,TSN.ca, The Toronto Star, Yahoo! and NHL.com.
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