Three years later, JFJ's plan still murky

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:15 AM ET

John Ferguson has a plan.

I know this to be true because he keeps telling me he has a plan.

He said so last April. He said so last June.

"The plan," he said, "is already in motion."

Last August, after free agency began and the Leafs didn't, he said: "We have a plan and we're sticking to it."

I presume the acquisition of Luke Richardson, four years younger than Ed Belfour, the sixth defenceman from one of the worst teams in hockey, and the dumping of the invisible Marius Czerkawski is all part of some remarkable master plan. It's just getting harder and harder to comprehend what exactly that plan entails.

If there was any kind of pattern other than desperation, other than picking up more old hockey junk from somebody else's scrap heap, it hasn't necessarily been detected here.

The only pattern seems to be that Ferguson is obsessed with the ordinary. He took part in hockey's garage sale last summer and then waited until most of the good stuff was gone.

He was almost like the annoying neighbour who wanders over to your home an hour after you've closed up the driveway, and wants to make an offer on the crap you didn't sell.

He got Jeff O'Neill only because Jeff O'Neill wanted to come home. That hasn't worked out.

He got Eric Lindros only because Eric Lindros wanted to come home. That hasn't worked out.

He got happy Jason Allison because happy Jason Allison wanted to come home and no one in their right mind would have back-loaded a contract the way Ferguson did. That hasn't worked out.

He got Alex Khavanov for one year because nobody else was offering that much. That hasn't worked out.

And before most of that, Ferguson made offers on Glen Murray, Adam Foote, Derian Hatcher, Dave Scatchard, Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk and Cory Stillman, to name a few, and all of it just has to be part of some master plan.

Which we can assume does not include the sabotaging of a once-proud franchise.

This is John Ferguson's third season as an NHL general manager. The first year, he inherited a team and basically made his name signing free agents who were waiting to sign here -- Nieuwendyk and Ken Klee.

The second year was the lockout year.

"No matter what system we are playing under, I can assure you we will be competitive." That's what he said. You can't make this up.

This is Year 3. "I'm optimistic," Ferguson said in early September. "We've got a real solid group of returnees. We augmented our group of forwards bringing in Lindros, Allison and O'Neill."

All part of the plan, we are told.

Rob Babcock had a plan, too. The owners of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., loved Babcock's plan but apparently didn't love Babcock. Sometime this basketball season, they began convinced that Babcock's plan could stay but he couldn't. They wanted someone else in charge. Someone they believed in. Someone they trusted.

They soon may be asking the same questions about Ferguson, who has wondered privately whether there will be a next year for him in Toronto. And without a doubt, there is reason to wonder.

Reason to wonder what kind of plan ices a slow team in a fast game, leaves little wiggle room for salary cap movement, hires too many players whose best days were yesterday.

John Ferguson had about 14 significant player decisions to make last summer. Not buying out Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe were good moves. Signing Alexei Ponikarovsky and Chad Kilger to rather tiny contracts were good moves.

The rest of the signings have ranged from disappointing to dismal.

Four-for-14 makes you a .286 hitter in baseball. The same kind of numbers can get a general manager fired.

Adding Luke Richardson and Alexander Suglobov and subtracting Ken Klee and Marius Czerkawski is the kind of lightweight trade-off that has marked John Ferguson's time here. Another day of such insignificance -- today's trade deadline -- could end up costing him his job.

That's not part of anyone's plan, but it is becoming an option.


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