John Ferguson Jr. was hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs on August 29th, 2003.
It’s been four long seasons since he took over the reigns of the fabled franchise. In that time, the team has changed significantly.
Before we make Ferguson the latest Leaf scapegoat, let’s look at some of the adjustments he has made to the team.
When Ferguson took over, the Leafs lineup looked something like this:
Roberts – Sundin – Mogilny
Nolan – Antropov – Ponikarovsky
Tucker – Renberg – Reichel
Domi – Green – Corson
Kaberle – McCabe
Svehla – Berg
Belak – Marchment
Belfour – Kidd
Thirteen of those players are still on the squad, and it’s safe to say that Ferguson kept the best of what he had to work with:
Mats Sundin, Darcy Tucker, Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Alex Steen, Matt Stajan, Kyle Wellwood, Wade Belak, Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Ian White, Carlo Colaiacovo, and Nicklas Kronwall.
Critics will claim that Ferguson hasn't taken advantage of opportunities, and that he's hesitant to make changes. However, the team has changed significantly over the past four years. To say he hasn’t tried to improve the lineup would be false.
Many players have come and gone during Ferguson’s tenure:
Joe Nieuwendyk, Ken Klee, Petr Tenkrat, Clarke Wilm, Craig Johnson, Drake Berehowsky, Brian Leetch, Ron Francis, Calle Johansson, Jeff O'Neill, Jason Allison, Alexander Khavanov, Eric Lindros, Jean-Sebastien Aubin, Mariusz Czerkawski, Brad Brown, Luke Richardson, Aleksander Suglobov, Mike Peca, Erik Westrum, Travis Green, Yanic Perreault, and most recently Simon Gamache.
Granted, most of Ferguson’s experiments have been failures, but not everyone brought in by the rookie GM has flopped. Some of his acquisitions are still on the current roster:
Chad Kilger – claimed off waivers, March 2004
Andy Wozniewski – signed May 2004
John Pohl – acquired from St. Louis Aug 2005
Andrew Raycroft – acquired from Boston June 2006 for Tuukka Rask
Pavel Kubina – signed July 2006
Hal Gill – signed July 2006
Bates Battaglia – signed July 2006
Boyd Devereaux – signed Oct 2006
Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell – acquired from San Jose June 2007 for first-round pick in 2007, second-round pick in 2007, fourth-round pick in 2007
Jason Blake – signed July 2007
Dominic Moore – claimed off waivers, January 2008
Ferguson is also responsible for the drafting of some blue-chip prospects, Justin Pogge, Jiri Tlusty, Robbie Earl, and Anton Stralman to name a few. What is most alarming, on the other hand, is that Ferguson was brought in to change the Maple Leaf method of trading youth for aging veterans. While today’s roster is certainly MUCH younger than the roster Ferguson inherited, he gave away a plethora of draft picks to make it happen:
2005: 1st (Rask), 2nd, 4th
2007: 1st, 2nd
2008: 2nd (added extra 5th)
All that said, Ferguson's time is up in Toronto. It might not be his fault, but he will be made the scapegoat.
The Maple Leafs franchise is in trouble because of its ownership structure. The Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan holds a 58 percent share in the ownership. No matter who's sitting in the General Manager’s seat, things won't change in Toronto unless the Board of Directors loosens the reigns and allows the next GM to have ultimate control over the team—as has been granted to Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo.
The next Leafs GM will only be as successful as the Board allows him to be. Scotty Bowman recognized the flaw in the organization and said he would only accept the position of General Manager if he were granted the same respect as Colangelo. He was denied that respect.
Any other "hockey guy" worth his salt will pass on the patsy position.
So go ahead, fire Paul Maurice, fire John Ferguson, fire Richard Peddie. But it’s the Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan Board members (Robert Bertram, James Leech, and Dean Metcalf) who have to go if the Leafs are to have any chance of being competitive again.