Admiring eyes watching John Jr.'s every move

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:16 AM ET

The Toronto Maple Leafs haven't had their first official team practice and already they are feeling the critical wrath of media and fans alike.

Firmly planted in the hot seat is Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr.

For an inside perspective on him, I went to an experienced hockey man who had been part of five Stanley Cup winners as a player -- John Ferguson Sr., who now serves as a special advisor with the San Jose Sharks and just happens to be the Leafs GM's father.

Big John, as Papa Ferguson used to be called by friends and foes alike, has recently had some prostate problems but has bounced back just as his fists used to bounce off the noggins of careless opponents. However, his hockey mind is just as sharp as it ever was, perhaps even sharper.

"I think young John is doing things right for the Maple Leafs," Fergie Sr. said. "At times he will ask me for my opinion, but will not necessarily follow my advice. He is his own man. He knows well that you build a team from the goaltender out. Once you have the goaltending situation solved, then you can begin to worry about the rest of the team."

OK, fine. Eddie Belfour is a top-five goalie who has stolen a playoff series or two in his time as a Leaf. But what about the rest of the team? What about losing stars such as Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk, Alexander Mogilny and Brian Leetch?

"Look, Roberts is pushing 40, Nieuwendyk is not far behind," Ferguson Sr. said. "Mogilny has a history of injuries and Leetch is closing in on Nieuwendyk and Roberts, plus he had a big salary. Besides, the change of scenery will be good for those players.

"We (San Jose) let some of our aces such as Owen Nolan, Mike Ricci and some others go. In the process we saved $30 million in salaries and we began building a team on four first-rounders and other young players. The days of megasalaries are gone. There will be no New York Yankees in the NHL."

But is he impressed with the team his son has assembled?

"I'm impressed with the lineup," he said. "Jason Allison is an excellent player when he is healthy, which he seems to be. Ten years ago, Eric Lindros was perhaps the best player around. He will have something to prove this year. (Mats) Sundin is a star and Jeff O'Neill is a pretty good winger.

"In addition, they have some pretty talented players such as (Carlo) Colaiacovo, (Matt) Stajan and some others. Overall, I think, young John did a pretty good job in getting Toronto a competitive team."


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