Leafs got exactly what they paid for

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

When Isiah Thomas first arrived in Toronto, peddling his big smile and his charming line of bull, he always talked about building a "championship team with a championship vision."

He left the Raptors in his customary state of chaos but somehow his catchphrases remained.

They are now the embarrassing and baseless words being spoken by anyone of importance at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. They are words attributed to corporate voices who immediately identify themselves as sporting frauds the minute they try and rationalize the sorry state of the Maple Leafs.

We've come to expect this kind of inane babble from CEO Richard Peddie, who can't help himself. He trips all over himself every time he tries to speak sports.

But you don't expect that kind of unsupportable verbiage from Larry Tanenbaum, the normally optimistic, but brutally honest chairman of the MLSEL board. You don't expect him to have sporting vision, but at the same time, don't expect him to be blind either.

REALITY

Let's deal with some reality here for a moment: There is no vision for the Toronto Maple Leafs. There is no plan. There is nothing that general manager John Ferguson has done in three years on the job to demonstrate he has any of the capabilities necessary to build a winning team, let alone a championship team.

He inherited a top-third NHL team when he was hired as a compromise and inexpensive candidate in 2003. He has built the club into a bottom-third team in less than two seasons.

It isn't necessarily his fault.

This is what happens when you hire on the cheap, when you hire Rob Babcock instead of Bryan Colangelo, when you think you're smarter than the rest of the world but standings never lie.

You get what you pay for and in hiring Ferguson the Leafs have gotten what they paid for.

Ferguson has traded for Drake Berehowsky and Brian Leetch and Ron Francis and Luke Richardson and Jeff O'Neill and Alex Suglobov as general manager of the Leafs. That's it. That's all.

By comparison, Cliff Fletcher, a proven general manager, was hired by the Leafs in 1991-92 and in his first season on the job, all he did was deal for Grant Fuhr, Glenn Anderson, Doug Gilmour, Jamie Macoun and 10 other players. At the end of his first season, Fletcher hired Pat Burns to coach.

At the end of his first season, Ferguson signed Ed Belfour to a long-term contract without having the goalie's back checked out.

Like we said, you get what you pay for when you go the inexperienced route.

The very notion that Ferguson has a plan, that Peddie has a plan (other than to find new revenue sources for MLSEL) that anyone around this ill-conceived lineup has a plan is laughable to anyone who has a clue.

The Leafs' best player, Mats Sundin, will be 36 years old next season. Only one defenceman of consequence, Tomas Kaberle is signed beyond this season. Bryan McCabe is a free agent and almost certain to leave. There is no apparent starting goaltender for the coming season.

So to recap briefly: There isn't much offence, there isn't much defence and there isn't much goaltending for next year. If Ferguson's vision is to take a 100-point team and turn it into a 60-point team, then it's working out swimmingly.

And don't for a minute try and sell that we're building through the draft guff. You can't build through the draft anymore: Brad Boyes, a Leaf pick, is having his first decent NHL season. He was picked in 2000. Alexei Ponikarovsky is having his first decent NHL season. He was a 1998 pick.

The supposed kids who have come up to play defence, Jay Harrison being the best of them, were selected in 2001.

You can build through the draft if you're building for 2012. Otherwise, you paddle in circles, going nowhere.

The only tangible additions Ferguson has made to the roster come in goaltending depth for the future with picks from 2004 and 2005, Justin Pogge and Tuukka Rask, appearing promising.

But consider this: In 2001, Pascal Leclaire, Dan Blackburn and Jason Bacashihua were the first picks among goalies. The year before, it was Rick DiPietro and Brent Krahn. In '99, it was Brian Finley, Maxime Ouellet and Ari Ahonen. In '98, try Patrick DesRochers and Mathieu Chouinard.

They were all part of somebody's plan. At least, that was the story.

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