Ducks GM shows Fergy how it should be done

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

There was just a small piece of truth missing from the announcement of the apparent contract extension granted to Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson the other day.

And that is that the Leafs had to pay Ferguson next season, whether they chose to keep him or not.

That was part of the original contract signed. Whether the Leafs fire him or keep him, he was going to be paid by the team for one more year.

Nobody bothered to include that bit of news in making the announcement.

The extension, in truth, doesn't change much of anything. This is how it will work: Should the Leafs continue to have a decent season, Ferguson will be retained, probably not on a deal any longer than three seasons.

Should the Leafs fail to make the playoffs, or fall apart on their way to, or into, the playoffs, he will be let go.

To date, you can make a sound argument in favour of Ferguson, and one just as sound in favour of his removal.

The pro-Ferguson camp will point to the hiring of coach Paul Maurice, the acquisition of goalie Andrew Raycroft, the free-agent signings of Michael Peca, Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina, and the restructuring of the front office as reasons to believe Ferguson is growing on the job.

You can add in his altered demeanour, his confidence, the way he carries himself publicly, and it's clear he no longer wishes to be the punchline for every comedian on morning radio.

Just a year ago, the punchline was his hockey moves. In his first summer, post-lockout, Ferguson signed Jason Allison, Eric Lindros and Alexander Khavanov and the only trade of consequence he made brought him Jeff O'Neill.

Those moves vaulted the Leafs from a 103-point playoff team to a team that missed the playoffs. In baseball parlance, he ended up 0-for-4 in significant transactions.

When you compare that, say, with what Brian Burke managed in Anaheim, you get a clear view on the difference between a savvy experienced GM in a non-traditional hockey market and one still trying to figure it out in the toughest market of them all.

Burke inherited an Anaheim team that finished 12th in the Western Conference, 15 points out of a playoff spot. While Ferguson was signing Allison (who no one has signed this season), Lindros and Khavanov, Burke was signing Scott Niedermayer (expensive) and Teemu Selanne (inexpensive) as free agents.

While Ferguson's largest trade last season was Ken Klee for Alexander Suglobov, Burke sent former Hart Trophy winner Sergei Fedorov to Columbus for Todd Marchant and a little-known defencemen named Francois Beauchemin, who has turned out to be a real steal.

This summer, while Ferguson was adding expensive defencemen and a checking forward at a scorer's price, Burke traded for Chris Pronger.

Last year, Burke's Ducks surprised people by making the playoffs and then making their way to the Conference final.

This year, the first-place Ducks are expected to challenge for the Cup.

In less than two seasons on the job, Burke has taken them from 15th in the Conference to first and rebuilt the entire defence by adding Niedermayer, Pronger, Beachmin, Sean O'Donnell and Joe DiPenta, five of the six regulars on the blueline. In less than two seasons, more than 60% of the roster changed because of guile, experience and aggressiveness.

This can happen when a genereal manager isn't learning on the job.

By comparison, of the 12 Leafs players getting the most ice time, two have been added by Ferguson, three if you count Raycroft.

In the end, this is what the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., must decide. Doesn't the largest market deserve the best GM?

Brian Burke is in Anaheim. Kevin Lowe is in Edmonton. Lou Lamoriello is in New Jersey.

John Ferguson, for now, is in Toronto.


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