At 1:00 pm EST the Toronto Maple Leafs finally made a decision that was well overdue—the dismissal of their lame-duck general manager. President and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Richard Peddie fired John Jr., and replaced him with 73 year old former Maple Leaf GM Cliff Fletcher.
Speculation has been running rampant for over two weeks that MLSE was about to dismiss their GM of the past four years. Ferguson—despite posting the second highest winning percentage of any Leafs GM behind Pat Quinn—walked a long plank that was set up three weeks ago when the incompetent Peddie informed the Toronto Sun that, "Maybe it was a mistake to hire John."
With the Maple Leafs presently six points out of a playoff spot, the incoming Fletcher has to have a "sink or swim" attitude. He has been brought in to evaluate the Leafs present day talent and create a template for the next general manager who will be hired this summer.
Fletcher, who has an eighteen month contract, will now be responsible to seek out whether or not Mats Sundin wants to retire a Maple Leaf or be traded to a contender for future commodities. Fletcher, who previously ran the Leafs from 1991 to 1997, has until the February 26th trade deadline to decide whether to "blow-up" the Leafs or futilely seek a playoff spot. Some of Fletcher's trades from the past were real earth shakers. He traded for the likes of Doug Gilmour, Mats Sundin, and he traded away and for Wendel Clark.
Whether or not Fletcher is in Toronto to "grenade" this team will be seen over the next few weeks. He has inherited a team that has some players that are proud to wear the Maple Leaf, but are shy on talent. Fletcher has also inherited some players that have received big contracts and are happy to collect their pay cheque every two weeks. The Leafs moniker of "the passion that unites us all" unfortunately turned into the "passion that got Ferguson Jr. fired."
So, the older and maybe wiser Cliff Fletcher has taken over from the younger and naive John Ferguson Jr. But the real changeover should be happening with ownership.
The Maple Leafs—who are owned by a consortium led by the Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan's 58% stake—will never be successful. Having too many hands in the cookie jar does not and will not work.
We have also seen sad sack majority owners such as Harold Ballard and Steve Stavros fail in bringing Lord Stanley's Cup back to Toronto. Today these two men are resting in peace, and the Maple Leafs are in pieces, hoping a 73 year old "flame" from the past can stick handle this franchise back together.
I say good luck, Cliff—and hopefully you stay well clear of one!