John Ferguson Jr. is going to fire Pat Quinn ... as if.
John Ferguson. You know ... talks like he swallowed a thesaurus. John Ferguson, the guy who sharpened pencils for Larry Pleau in St. Louis who, judging by his record, couldn't be trusted to sharpen pencils for Pat Quinn.
You know, John Ferguson. Third year in the job, second with people actually playing. Biggest achievement is making Alexander Khavanov a Maple Leaf.
John Ferguson is 38. Quinn is 62. Most of Quinn's cufflinks are older than Ferguson.
Quinn has coached a team to an Olympic gold medal, won 640 NHL games and another 183 in the playoffs. The previous Maple Leafs coach to work as many games was Punch Imlach. Then Hap Day.
And yet Quinn answers, at least on the organizational flow chart, to Ferguson.
Here's a secret: Ferguson can no more fire Quinn than I can fire my father.
President and CEO Richard Peddie said as much yesterday.
Speaking to The Sun's Terry Koshan, Peddie stressed he was talking about procedures, not plans. Firing a coach, he said: "Would be something the general manager and president would take to the board."
Now, there is nothing unusual about the owner of a team wanting to sign off on the firing of his most important and visible manager. But even if he felt Quinn needed to go, Ferguson probably couldn't make it happen. Just as he couldn't shove Tie Domi, a friend of the owner, aside with a one-year contract. Instead, Domi got a deal for this year and next at $2.5 million US.
And so what you have is a general manager with player personnel power but, ultimately, no firing power. It's a navy without the cannons.
Yes, the Leafs are struggling for a playoff spot.
But anyone with a record book can see the club endured three consecutive losing seasons before Quinn took over in 1998. Three 100-point seasons ensued. Quinn never has suffered a losing season here.
Now, I can't argue that Pat Quinn is without fault. His fascination with Wade Belak, his reluctance to notice the obvious wear in Ed Belfour, his obstructionist policies regarding the media, all these things are grating as hell.
BUNCH OF STIFFS
It's as if every year he chooses a new stiff to pass off as valid contributor, be it Jonas Hoglund, Aki Berg, Dmitri Khristich or the unlamented Robert Reichel.
And you wonder about a staff of Rick Ley and Keith Acton that needs another vigorous presence.
But if the Leafs aren't very good this season, and they were sitting outside a playoff spot going into last night's game, it's not because Quinn forgot how to coach.
The Leafs are thin. The loss of Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker and Eric Lindros to injury have contributed to their freefall. They also are old. At 34, Sundin seems to have hit a block. Same for Belfour, who is 40.
The idea emanating from Ferguson's office is a slow and steady growth of the Leafs' talent pool. There have been some encouraging signs: Goaltending prospects Justin Pogge and Tuukka Rask represented Canada and Finland at the world junior in Vancouver.
But Ferguson hasn't unearthed any player of consequence, and his free agent signings were built entirely on the desire of the already wealthy Eric Lindros and Jason Allison to play in Toronto.
I don't know if Ferguson is a complete incompetent unprepared for the big time. I do know he has done nothing to show that he isn't.
And I know one more thing.
There's only one man in town who matters when the topic is whether to fire Quinn.
His name is Larry Tanenbaum.