I’ve been calling for the firing of John Ferguson as GM of the Leafs for almost a year now. Now that it’s happened, I’m not sure it’s the right move. Well, sort of. It’s a move that definitely needed to be done, but I’m not convinced it’s the only move that needs to be done.
On Ferguson’s watch, the Leafs have gone from a just-making-the-playoffs mediocre team to a laughing stock, bordering on the worst team in the league. Based on the moves that he has made, I believed that Ferguson was simply incompetent, and did a lousy job of running the team. In recent days, however, I’ve heard a lot about what’s gone on behind the scenes — Ferguson tried to make a number of deals that were nixed by Richard Peddie, the CEO of MLSE, and not a hockey guy. Given that, it’s quite possible that it was not entirely Ferguson’s fault. If his hands were as tied as I have been led to believe, there wasn’t much he could have done.
Having said that, as I’ve mentioned before, MLSE has treated Ferguson very badly over the last few months. His contract was going to end after this season, and MLSE didn’t bother to renew it, implying that he was going to be done after this season, and Peddie did say that hiring Ferguson was a mistake. Ferguson says it did not affect how he did his job, but I think it must have, and it more than likely affected the other GMs in the league and how they dealt with him. Over the past couple of weeks, the Leafs have all but announced that Ferguson was going to be fired, and that they were talking to Cliff Fletcher about the position, so he knew his days were numbered. Openly talking about who the next GM is when the current one is still there is just not very nice. So it was kind of unfair to Ferguson not to put him out of his misery and just fire him.
Cliff Fletcher has been hired as interim GM, and will search in the off-season for a new full-time GM for next season. MLSE has announced that “As all of our general managers have had, he will have the autonomy and responsibility for all hockey decisions…” If that’s true and Ferguson did have complete autonomy, then he’s at fault and deserved to be fired. If that’s not true, and some of his attempted moves were blocked, then Peddie should also be fired. Since the Leafs have been making money hand over fist on Peddie’s watch, I doubt that the rest of the board of directors of MLSE would even consider firing him.
There’s also been talk of firing coach Paul Maurice, which I don’t agree with. As the old saying goes, you can’t turn chicken turds into chicken salad by adding mayonnaise. Given what he had to work with, I don’t think we can look at the Leafs’ record from this year and last and conclude that it’s Maurice’s fault. Even if Maurice was the best hockey coach in the world, I’m not sure he could turn this team into a winner. I say wait until Fletcher (and whoever the next GM is) makes some moves and gives him a half-decent team, and then see what he can do.
Ironically, Cliff Fletcher was GM of the Leafs in the early 90’s, and made the trade that brought Mats Sundin to Toronto. Now his first act at GM might just be to trade Sundin away.