MLSEL must act quickly

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:26 AM ET

This business about John Ferguson is not personal.

There is no grudge here. It doesn't matter whether I care for him, whether you care for him, how he answers questions, what he sounds like on radio.

It matters that he wins. It matters that he puts the Maple Leafs in a position to be successful this year, next year, and the year after that.

That's his job. And in doing that, he has failed.

The truth on Ferguson: This may be his fourth year as general manager of the Maple Leafs but it is only his second season in which he can be held accountable for the on-ice product.

When he was first hired as general manager, he joined the Leafs in August, taking over a roster that was pretty much in place. Throw out that year.

The next year was lost to lockout: Aside from being poorly prepared for the change in style, rules and the liberal free agency, throw out that year.

In Year 3, the Leafs failed to make the playoffs and Ferguson fired Pat Quinn and his coaching staff after a 90-point season. Someone had to be held accountable.

This is Year 4: Ferguson hired a new coach, brought in a new goalie, signed three veteran free agents, bought out the contracts of two other veterans, traded for an experienced centreman, turned over half the roster and ended with 91 points -- one fewer win, one point more -- and still missed the playoffs.

A fact that cannot be ignored: Twenty-one different teams have made the playoffs in the past two seasons. The Leafs aren't among them.

Three teams that finished tied or behind them last season passed them this year to become playoff teams. Good morning Toronto: Welcome to the bottom third of the National Hockey League, courtesy of John Ferguson.

But before there can be any serious talk of next year, any discussion of free agency, any consideration about what to do with captain Mats Sundin or any other potential free agent, Leafs ownership must determine what to do with the GM.

The determination on him must be made -- and made quickly. There is little time to waste. He must be replaced. By delaying the matter in any way, all ownership provides is further opportunity for Ferguson to negatively impact on the Leafs future.

Consider the Sundin situation. The Leafs have begun talks with Sundin's agent. But ask yourself this: If Sundin at 35 and 36 can't carry the Leafs into the playoffs, how would he be expected to do so at 37, 38 and 39?

It may be politically incorrect to suggest this but I wouldn't act on the option on Sundin's contract. I would let him go and free up more than $6 million in cap space for next season.

I would also tell Pavel Kubina he's done as a Leaf. Sorry pal, it just didn't work out. All general managers make mistakes. The best ones find ways to correct them. Why not send Kubina to the minors, pay him his major league salary, free up another $5 million. The MLSEL moneybags can afford that.

Between Sundin and Kubina, that opens up $11 million in cap space. Now fast forward to the expiring contracts of Michael Peca, Jeff O'Neill and Yanic Perreault and let them go, which frees up another $4 million.

That brings the available total to $15 million. Subtract the buyouts paid out to Ed Belfour and Tie Domi -- although there is money still owing to Domi -- and you have another $2 million to spend. And with the salary cap being increased by at least $3 million, now we're talking $20 million.

That's gives a new general manager all kinds of room and all kinds of options.

The new GM, whomever he may be, would have the flexibility to acquire another goalie to either take Andrew Raycroft's place or cut down on his workload. Raycroft was a classic Ferguson error: He acquired a middle-of-the-road goaltender, made him the 23rd-highest paid at his position, then ended up victimized when his goalie played to his salary level.

None of this is personal with John Ferguson. Business rarely is. Missing the playoffs should never be acceptable in Toronto.


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