Ferguson Training Wheels an Accident Waiting to Happen

By Jason Menard

When John Ferguson Jr. was brought in to run the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was brought in as a purported thoroughbred, champing at the bit to burst out of the gates and lead the beleaguered Buds down the home stretch and into the winner’s circle.

Whew… I think I may have exhausted all my equine metaphors. Well, all but this one – if the Leafs bring in John Muckler as a senior advisor, then they’ll have effectively taken that thoroughbred and turned him into a gelding.

Seriously, if the Leafs are that desperate to bring someone into the front office who will be, for all intents and purposes, a glorified baby sitter to the 40-year-old Ferguson, then it’s time to stop riding that dead horse, take off the saddle, and send him to the glue factory.

OK, I promise, no more horse metaphors.

Ferguson burst onto the scene back in 2003 as a 36-year-old wunderkind who was going to free the Leafs from the shackles of the Pat Quinn regime. Where Quinn represented the past and a fear that the game may have passed him by on a managerial level, Ferguson was supposed to represent the future.

Of course, looking back to his past, you could see the future didn’t hold much promise of being bright. After all, he had spent a few years in the St. Louis organization and as vice-president and director of hockey operations for the club he helped make the moves that caused the Blues to miss the playoffs for the first time in 24 years – and have left them as perennial doormats since.

And now one could argue that those same seeds have been planted in Hogtown – and Leafs fans can only hope that the same yield will not be reaped. Unfortunately, there is no time to learn in the top job – you’ve got to hit the ground running. And Ferguson’s shown that when it comes to running, he’s got two left feet – and those shoelaces are tied together.

Signing Pavel Kubina to an overly long and overly expensive deal only exacerbated the fact that he dumped a pile of money into a questionable blueliner in Bryan McCabe. And let’s not forget the third defensive blunder – the handsome three-year deal handed out to lumbering blueliner Hal Gill who continues to collect his millions while the game – and its players – pass him by.

And the worst deal of all? Peddling off all-world netminder Tukka Raask, who is arguably one of the top two goaltending prospects in the world with Carey Price, for a quick fix in Andrew Raycroft. Compounding that error by trying to fix it, Ferguson peddled away more of the club’s future for Vesa Toskala. Sure, there may be an improvement in net, but under the new CBA and salary cap, the first and second-round selections he gave up are worth their weight in gold.

These moves – and a handful of others – show that Ferguson’s not ready for the big time. But what the Leafs are doing by bringing in a senior advisor is simply greasing the skids for JFJ’s exit from the Air Canada Centre.

Not only does Ferguson lose face amongst his peer group – the other NHL general managers, but he suddenly becomes in danger of losing the respect of his coaching staff and players. After all, when the buck no longer stops at Ferguson’s desk, why would anyone respect his word as final?

The Leafs are setting themselves up for inner turmoil of an epic proportion. Does Ferguson have to vet every trade with Muckler? What happens if the senior advisor says no? Is Ferguson allowed to go on his own and veto that opinion, or is he bound to respect those wishes? If a coach doesn’t like Ferguson’s directive, can he go above his head to Muckler and lobby him to advise JFJ of a new change in philosophy?

Toronto thought it was getting a sleek, new-model sports car that was perfect for keeping pace with the new league. If they’ve determined that they’ve bought a lemon, bringing in an old reliable truck won’t make him run any better.

If the Toronto Maple Leafs is ready to take the wheel out of John Ferguson Jr.’s hands, they might as well go all the way and hand the keys to someone new.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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