Lame duck Fergie
It took all of seven games — and three wins — for a Toronto Maple Leafs storyline to develop, grow and be speculated on ad nauseam.
It's John Ferguson, Jr. — the "lame-duck GM."
This isn't a new development, given Ferguson was called such much of last year due to the fact his contract will expire at the end of 2006-07. But the apparent outcry from Leafs fans and/or media outlets about this story (or non-story?) so early into this season has gotten a little ridiculous.
For one thing, let's keep in mind this team, after last night's loss to Colorado, is on pace to finish with approximately three more points than they came up with last season.
Have they looked solid in beating (struggling) so-called 'good' teams like Ottawa and Calgary? Certainly. But, as the warning comes all too often in Leafs Nation, let's not go planning the Yonge Street parade.
For a well-reasoned perspective on Ferguson's lack of job security, I dipped into my small stable of well-reasoned friends who happen to be Leafs fans. Here's Pete Evans:
I suspect all the lame-duck talk stems from the fact that he has no contract beyond this year. Which I like. It means MLSE wants to see what the early returns of JFJ's nebulous "plan" are, before giving him money. If anything, that's a rare moment of clarity from the franchise. Not demonstrative of some sort of cancerous hierarchy.Hard to disagree with any of that.
Lame ducks GMs are ones that can't, or don't, make eye-opening trades or controversial free agent signings because their tenure is potentially winding down, or because management won't let them. JFJ has repeatedly proven that's not the case.
At the end of the day, you can accuse JFJ of a lot of things, but being a lame-duck GM isn't one of them. Inept, I might grant you. But if it all blows up in his face, he can't credibly look himself in the eye and say "this isn't my fault. These moves didn't work out because management didn't let me fully put my plan into action. They undermined me at every turn."
The thing is, the GM's position shouldn't be any different than that of coach or player looking to prove his worth in an organization, and it's not as if Ferguson's tenure thus far has definitively sold anyone on the idea that he's the man to lead the Leafs anywhere other than where they've been the last, say, 39 years.
When, then, should he get a new deal? As far as I can tell, there are four pertinent questions that have to play themselves out before we have an answer:
- Is Andrew Raycroft the answer in goal? The early returns here are positive: He's 3-2-1 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. Still, it's too early to tell if punting away prospect Tuukka Rask and giving Raycroft a three-year deal was the move to make.
- How well do Kubina and Gill play? Regardless of whatever wins the Leafs are picking up in October, the play of newcomers Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill has to factor in simply because these two are going to be a part of the Toronto blueline for the foreseeable future. Ferguson chose to bring in these two rather than improve his team's secondary scoring, and if the goals dry up, that'll be the cry rising from this city's tortured masses on sports talk radio.
- Are there gains in drafting and development? This is an area Ferguson targeted from the very beginning for improvement, as the franchise's moribund prospect pool was one of the league's worst when he was hired. Again, so far there are positive signs, but more time to evaluate the changes is necessary.
- Do they make the playoffs? Above all else, it likely comes down to this. Says Pete: "Raycroft could win the Vezina, but if the Leafs miss the playoffs I think there will be a change." If that's the case, we're going to be hearing this lame-duck storyline well into April — or at least until Toronto locks up that postseason spot.