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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Leafs Miss Their Chance

Richard Peddie, the CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), announced this week that the Leafs have ended their highly-publicized search for a senior hockey advisor to oversee General Manager, John Ferguson Jr.

Rest assured Leafs’ fans, the announcement was by no means a vote of confidence in Ferguson. In fact, it was a clear message to Ferguson that he will be gone by season’s end if the Leafs do not show any signs of improvement.

The decision to bring the search to an end was based solely on timing. It was no secret that the Leafs offered the position to coaching legend and current Red Wings advisor, Scotty Bowman. Throughout the summer, despite reports to the contrary, Bowman continually denied any interest in accepting the position. However, had MLSE given Bowman the assurances he needed to have the freedom to make the changes that he saw fit when the position was first offered, he would likely have accepted. Instead, Peddie and the rest of the MLSE board, who apparently, in addition to being prominent Toronto businessmen are hockey geniuses, agreed to relinquish full control over the hockey operations to Bowman much too late in the game.

With their failure to land Bowman and with training camp fast approaching, it became too late for the Leafs to bring an advisor in and make all of the changes needed. The Leafs had no choice but to enter this season with the team as it is currently composed.

Certainly, Ferguson has not done anything over the summer to instill confidence in his management abilities. He once again failed to land a marquee free agent and had to settle, as the Leafs always do, for signing a player to what will likely end up being the last contract of his career. Sure, Jason Blake may enjoy success playing alongside Mats Sundin, but he will be 35 at season’s end and won’t be able to maintain the same intensity of play for which he is known for. While Ferguson arguably improved the Leafs goaltending, the improvement in skill will likely be outweighed by the distraction caused by the inevitable goaltending controversy between Raycroft and the newly acquired Toskala.

Peddie stated earlier in the summer that “[Ferguson] could use some help.” He won’t get that help anymore. If, as expected, the Leafs miss the playoffs or secure one of the last few spots, then Ferguson will be fired. A general manager will be brought and will be given the autonomy to make the adjustments he sees fit, much the same way that Colangelo was brought in to run the Raptors organization. The only way that Ferguson continues to serve as GM after this season is if the Leafs far exceed everyone’s expectations and MLSE is no longer convinced that he needs help. I would bet my money on the former.

For Illegal Curve, I am Adam Gutkin.

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