Redemption for Fergie

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

John Ferguson sat in his usual seat, in his usual box, watching the unusual unfold before his very eyes.

Watching on a Midas night how everything he touched turned to goals on what might well have been the most important evening of this Maple Leaf season.

The night Ferguson made a silent case for his own rehiring.

This has not been an easy season for him, an easy time in the general manager's life. His father is ill. His wife is expecting their fourth child almost any minute now. His hockey team is day to day. His job future is an unending debate, stress everywhere.

But last night, everything worked. Last night, five players Ferguson found for next to nothing scored the first five goals in a 6-1 triumph over the defending Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes -- and can we please order an inquiry into how that championship happened?

There was Chad Kilger, the waiver claim, scoring twice. There was Boyd Devereaux, out of professional hockey when this season began, opening the scoring with a goal that made Cam Ward look like Patrick Lalime. There was Pavel Kubina, the dubious free-agent signing, getting a gift goal which made the Conn Smythe Trophy winner appear as though the spelling of Conn ought to be shortened. And there was Yanic Perreault, almost invisible since the trading deadline, taking a long bomb from another Ferguson free agent, Hal Gill, to force Ward's yanking.

All this in one night. All of Fergie's kids, some young, most of them not, rendering Eric and Erik of the Hurricanes almost irrelevant.

All of this giving Ferguson a rare one-night stand, a platform to flex his muscles and say I told you so but that's not who he is, never what he has been about.

"He walks in the same every day," said Paul Maurice, the best of the Ferguson acquisitions. "Every once in a while I shake my head when I realize he's younger than I am. He won't be any different tomorrow than he was (today) or yesterday.

"He reminds me, in many ways, of Jim Rutherford. He never excuses himself (of blame). He never transfers the heat he takes (to anyone else)."

Kilger came on waivers a year ago after failing every place he's been. Pohl came to the Leafs in a deal with St. Louis for future considerations and those considerations turned out to be nothing. Kubina was a free-agent signing. Perreault came for a marginal defencman and a second round pick. Devereaux came from near retirement.

Small moves, all of them except the expensive Kubina. None of them small last night.

"I didn't even know Devereaux was playing anymore," said Maurice. "I hadn't seen him in years.

"John has a way of extracting value out of his players. I can remember coming to camp last year and thinking, 'I don't know if this (Pohl guy) can be any good' and then two months later I'm thinking, 'Thank God we've got John Pohl.

"Most of the (pickups) have an unusual skill. Perreault has his, Pohl, Kilger, Devereaux, can really skate."

Last night, the Leafs embarrassed the Hurricanes, who are proving to be an embarrassment to champions everywhere. Not since the 1986 Montreal Canadiens have the NHL had so pathetic a champion.

The romp by the Leafs didn't vault them into a playoff spot. But the win, surrounded by circumstances in their favour, puts them in a position where a playoff spot in now possible.

Yesterday, we couldn't say that with certainty.

Today, with Tampa sinking, with Rick DiPietro dizzy, with a Sunday game in New York, with fewer teams likely battling for more spots, the possibilities of getting in is rapidly available.

And as the Leafs like to say, once you get in, anything can happen.

Hell, Carolina won. If that team can win, with that coach, with that defence, there has to be hope for everyone.

John Ferguson has said that from the beginning.

The goal was making the playoffs. The goal is suddenly within reach.

And this morning, the much-maligned general manager goes back to work, worried about his father, worried about his wife, with one fewer game to worry about than he had yesterday.


Photos