Leafs GM in desperate need of makeover

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

After the most volatile news conference in Maple Leafs history had ended -- with Pat Quinn fired and John Ferguson barbecued -- some members of the Leafs front office regrouped to try and make sense of the public roasting.

Sadly, although not everyone will admit it, it all comes back to Ferguson and one prevailing word: Credibility.

In a way, the Leafs were caught off guard by the temperature of their own announcement and by the reaction to it. And they weren't in any way prepared to deal with the embarrassment of the spectacle.

This is the great challenge now for Ferguson, general manager on a very short leash. Never mind that he has to eventually name Paul Maurice or someone else as the next Leafs coach. Never mind that there will be other announcements of prominence to be made.

What he has to do, and what the Leafs have to do, is find a way to re-invent Ferguson. To make him credible. To make him believable. To make him the kind of figure with whom you would entrust your favourite franchise.

This isn't in any way easy. If Leafs ownership truly believed Ferguson was the guy, then not only would they have given him the freedom to fire Quinn as coach but they would have extended his contract at the very same time.

Instead, by doing nothing, they indicated something. They indicated they weren't sure about their general manager. They indicated he has another season -- or part of one -- to show them he's worth investing in.

Soon, Maurice or somebody else will sign a two- or three-year contract to coach the Leafs. That means soon, the Leafs coach will have more long-term security than the man for whom he is working.

And to extend that logic, it also means that if Leafs ownership determines next season not to renew Ferguson, they again will be searching for a general manager with a coach already in place. The cycle, it seems, goes round and round.

In the case of the people vs. John Ferguson, this is not just about public perception or media performance. The notion that Ferguson is uncomfortable or forever searching for the right word is not the reason to determine his future.

It's the other perceptions that Ferguson must erase and those may be some even Maple Leaf owners aren't completely aware of.

The hockey world is a very small place. Everyone talks. Everybody gossips. And communication today between general managers and coaches, between agents and players, is active.

Players talk to players in person, on telephone and by e-mail. They know about the botched Gary Roberts-Joe Nieuwendyk negotiations of last summer and how Ferguson tried to play one off the other. They know about much of the Leafs' micro-managing under Ferguson. They know how players such as Ed Belfour detest the GM.

Why would a free agent who doesn't already live in the area want to play for the Leafs with Ferguson in charge and want to play for a team that has few legitimate pieces with which to rebuild?

Why would agents, who already wonder about Ferguson, steer their clients in this direction?

LACK OF LOYALTY

Even, reading between the lines, Ferguson was targeted by fellow GM Bobby Clarke for his lack of loyalty in the case of Quinn. (The same Clarke, it should be noted, who fired Roger Neilson when he had cancer.)

This is part of the great Maple Leafs dilemma. We won't know until July whether Ferguson can begin on his personal quest for credibility. We won't know until there are answers on the Bryan McCabe front, until we see if Ferguson is proactive or reactive in free agency, until we see if there is an actual vision for a team that has lacked one.

It's not easy to believe in Ferguson right now. One Internet poll of more than 6,000 respondents indicated overwhelmingly that he, not Quinn, should have been fired last week.

That image of weakness remains. The optics are not good. John Ferguson needs a general manager's makeover -- and he needs it fast.

MVP STEVE

When the NBA named its all-time team of its 50 best players in 1997, almost half of those had never won the MVP award. Now, reportedly, Steve Nash will win his second MVP award. One more than Oscar Robertson or Bob Cousy managed. Remarkable.

O CANADA

When last the Edmonton Oilers met the Calgary Flames in a playoff series, Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish were playing for the Oilers, not managing and coaching them. Fifteen years later, a long overdue Battle of Alberta is looming. Enjoy the ride.

LITTLE CANCON

Don Cherry was only partially correct when he went on a recent rant about John Ferguson's draft record. Cherry said Ferguson hadn't drafted any Canadian players except goaltender Justin Pogge. Apparently, he forgot defenceman Phil Oreskovic.


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