Grilling awaits Ferguson

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

John Ferguson won't likely get the heave-ho, but shouldn't expect high fives when the board of directors of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., hears his off-season report in the coming weeks.

The hockey team's general manager has retained the support of CEO Richard Peddie the past two seasons of missing the playoffs, but the latter conceded that he doesn't have exclusive authority to judge Ferguson.

"At the end of the year, I evaluate all my vice-presidents and the board sees every senior leader," Peddie said yesterday. "If they think I'm being too effusive or too tough, I will be challenged."

Peddie says he won't be taking the advice of some fans and media to blow up the hockey office and start over.

"That's extreme," Peddie said. "If John ever comes to me and says major surgery is the way, I'd have to listen. But there's no guarantee in that approach (sitting in the basement) that you will end up drafting a Crosby or maybe in a few years, a Tavares."

Ferguson held his annual post-mortem press conference yesterday at the Air Canada Centre. He didn't flinch when asked about employment beyond the summer -- "I intend to be here a long time," -- but was touchy how the team's 40-win, 91-point season is being perceived.

"We were that close to be talking today about the heart and character of the team.

"We relied more on young players this year and had scoring depth. We have five to seven players who are 26 or less and we're the 11th youngest team in the league.

"We're determined to get back where we want to be. There are a number of changes that will take place."

Ferguson held exit meetings with all players in the past 48 hours. Some will not be back.

"We thanked them for their contributions," he said, without revealing names.

Ferguson had a productive meeting with captain Mats Sundin, followed by serious contract discussions with his agent J.P. Barry.

The Leafs apparently have the green light from the NHL to skip their $4.56 million one-year option on Sundin and it's cap hit under his old contract, in favour of a new two-year deal.

"We'll have a June 1-15 window in which to exercise our option, but don't expect it will come to that," Ferguson said.

The GM and his pro scouts will convene shortly to target potential free agents.

The freeing up of a few million dollars of cap space and an anticipated $2 million to $3 million rise in the cap itself will position the Leafs for some signings.

One might be in goal, where Ferguson has hinted he'll get a veteran back-up relief for Andrew Raycroft if J.S. Aubin doesn't re-sign. But coach Paul Maurice has talked of Raycroft making 65 to 70 starts again.

The Leafs will remain picking 13th overall after Chicago won yesterday's draft lottery, the same spot as last year.


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