Time to pull plug on JFJ

Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. arrived in Toronto with a plan for the future. (Sun Media...

Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. arrived in Toronto with a plan for the future. (Sun Media File/Greg Henkenhaf)

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:01 PM ET

John Ferguson must be replaced as general manager of the Maple Leafs before he can do any more damage to the hockey club.

This is not a 10-game overreaction to a team off to a troubling start. This is a 174-game analysis -- three seasons of post-lockout Ferguson Leafs teams.

And now, basically all that stands between him and his removal is the fact that he hired no one in the front office to assist him who is capable of taking his job -- the way Paul Holmgren stepped into Bobby Clarke's position a year ago in Philadelphia.

This has become a damned- if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation for the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd.

If the board does nothing, which is its custom, then it is enabling Ferguson to attempt to fix the mess he personally created.

If the board does something, and fires him, it's quite likely it won't be able to adequately replace him until the end of the season.

But the choice is clear: It's time to pull the plug.

They have to do it because Ferguson's track record at trading is almost as dismal as his free-agent signings. And now, with the Leafs in so vulnerable a position -- and with the hockey buzzards circling -- Ferguson is the last person you want talking trade or making trades with anyone.

When he arrived here from St. Louis, Ferguson talked about going back to basics, rebuilding the farm system, working the draft. As clumsily as he may have conveyed the message, there was some merit to his apparent plan.

At least, momentarily there was.

But then he traded away two first-round picks -- a third if you count the 2005 choice, Tuukka Rask -- three second-round picks and three fourth-round picks, for what amounts to Vesa Toskala, Andrew Raycroft and the suspended Mark Bell.

Those deals meant Ferguson no longer was playing for the future. Those deals meant he was more interested in his own survival than the team's.

And if he is playing for now instead of the future, how is that working out? Truly, it's difficult to find an area in which Ferguson has succeeded.

Since the lockout, when he had a year to plan the Leafs' future, he has signed Jason Allison, Alex Khavanov, Eric Lindros, Mike Hoffman, J-S Aubin, Mariusz Czerkawski, Brad Brown, Hal Gill, Pavel Kubina, Mike Peca, Boyd Devereaux, Simon Gamache and Jason Blake as free agents. Some list.

The one move that wasn't questioned, the hiring of coach Paul Maurice, is now under question. With apparently better players, the Leafs are playing worse. And if you think their team defence is bad now, wait a year: All of the main culprits are signed long-term.

Anaheim Ducks general manager Brian Burke inherited a team similar to the Leafs in the summer of 2005. Within two seasons, he changed all six defencemen, changed coaches, traded away most of his high-priced help and won the Stanley Cup.

Sound management can do that.

A year ago, the Leafs were chuckling about the state of the Philadelphia Flyers. In less than a season on the job, Holmgren signed or traded for Daniel Briere, Kimmo Timonen, Martin Biron, Joffrey Lupul, Jason Smith, Scott Hartnell and Braydon Coburn and picked second in the NHL draft last June. They are on their way back to contention.

Sound management can do that.

So, where do the MLSEL people look now? They failed in an attempt to bring Scotty Bowman in to run the Leafs in the summer and continually talk about a Bryan Colangelo-type to run the club.

The best choice may be Ken Holland, the Detroit GM, who works in the deepest front office in hockey. Holland is under contract, but then so was Colangelo before leaving for the Raptors. Holland is in a bit of a strange position in Detroit -- with Steve Yzerman waiting in the Wings -- so to speak.

Holland is definitely worth pursuing.

In all, 14 teams have changed general managers since the Leafs hired Ferguson. A high percentage of those have made their teams better in a shorter period of time.

It's time for MLSEL to admit that this hiring was a mistake. The culture of this hockey team desperately needs to change, starting with the general manager.


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