GM blew it, not board

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

Richard Peddie was right with what he said, wrong with how he chose to say it.

And now that he has admitted it was a mistake to hire John Ferguson as general manager of the Maple Leafs, the least he could do now is correct his own error.

In a backstabbing way, Peddie has almost transformed Ferguson into a sympathetic figure. Imagine, being Ferguson, and waking up Tuesday morning, seeing the front page of the newspaper, and having your boss admit in large print that your hiring was a mistake.

Imagine what that must have felt like? Coming from the person who hired you, who essentially protected you when others wanted you gone, who promised you a contract extension, then pulled it from you.

First, Peddie nixed the extension (which was premature in offering). Now, he has to find a way to remove the verbal knife he has placed in Ferguson's back.

In trying to maintain his own dignity, his public persona and his sense of bravado, Ferguson maintains he has done nothing wrong, and that external forces -- problematic Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. board members with all kinds of agendas -- have prevented him from being successful with the Leafs.

A few facts that need to be examined, considering the amount of Leafs misinformation out there:

1) The difference of opinion between Peddie and Larry Tanenbaum on Ferguson's employment has been apparent for more than a year now. But that has not affected any trade, signing, draft choice, front office or coach hiring in that time period.

2) Only once in Ferguson's time as GM has any member of the board interfered with his hockey decisions. That came in the post-lockout summer of 2005 when he was basically forced to re-sign Tie Domi. A year later, he bought out the final year on Domi's contract. The move didn't affect the progress of the Leafs positively or negatively although, for a key late season game in Montreal during the 2005-06 season, Ferguson insisted Domi be sat out in favour of Alexander Suglobov.

3) This Leafs team, with eight wins in 25 games, is Ferguson's team. These are his players, his free agent signings, his trades, his contracts signed. Others, as he says, may have agendas, but he made all the hockey decisions.

So how did it all go so wrong for Ferguson? There are a few basic failings.

This is his third-season post-lockout and his third different starting goaltender. First, he overpaid for an injured Ed Belfour, whom he later had to buy out. Then he traded a top prospect, Tuukka Rask, for Andrew Raycroft, who he instantly signed to a long-term contract. This year, he traded away three draft picks to acquire Vesa Toskala, whom he made the same mistake with, signing him to a large long-term contract before he had played a game for the Leafs.

If goaltending has been a problem, so has Ferguson's salary cap management. In this area, he has demonstrated weakness in two different ways. One, by badly overpaying for players, which has hindered his ability to deepen the roster. And two, by surrounding himself with inexperienced front-office people, he all but strangled the club. Who could Ferguson turn to when he needed advice?

Before the salary cap, the Leafs could buy themselves out of trouble. Since the introduction of the cap, Ferguson has spent his way into all kinds of trouble.

With the highest paid defence in the NHL, the Leafs have allowed the most goals against. The investment in Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina, Tomas Kaberle has not worked out as planned. Last year Kaberle was brilliant; this year he has played horribly. Last year, Kubina looked lost, this year he was playing better before he got injured. In neither of his post-contract seasons, has McCabe -- paid at superstar wages -- looked anything other than a flawed NHL defenceman.

And in the free agency market, the cumulative three-year signings of Eric Lindros, Alex Khavanov, Jason Allison, Michael Peca, Kubina, Bates Battaglia, Andy Wozniewski, Jason Blake, Boyd Devereaux has produced what?

The board didn't sign those players. The board didn't trade away draft picks. The board didn't acquire Jeff O'Neill or Yanic Perreault.

John Ferguson, a mistake then, a mistake now, made those moves without interference. Now, he must be prevented from making any more.


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