Thursday, October 19, 2006

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.

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."
Hard to disagree with any of that.

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:
  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.
UPDATE Howard Berger made the case for Ferguson's contract extension on Monday.


At 1:30 p.m., October 19, 2006, Blogger Wardo said...

"Was hiring Maurice the right decision?" has to rate as a question as well.

Just because he seems to be doing well now doesn't mean this decision can be dropped from
consideration. Installing Maurice was Ferguson's most important decision, and we won't know how successful that was until the season is over.

At 1:32 p.m., October 19, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

I just don't think Maurice will be a problem, and certainly not to the extent that it'll hold Ferguson back from an extension.

All that move is going to do is help JFJ.

At 2:22 p.m., October 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It really all boils down to whether the Leafs make the playoffs or not. He has had his chance to build all aspects of this team to fit his plan and now he has to sink or swim with them.

Your buddy is right, it is nice to see MLSE take a wait and see approach to the season before extending JFJ.

And I would not that the 3 point improvement that they are on pace for would have been enough to get a playoff spot last year.

At 2:57 p.m., October 19, 2006, Blogger MF37 said...

Since JFJ entered the final year of his contract there have been numerous Leaf stories that have fallen into the ad nauseam category (hello Mr. and Mrs. McCabe!). Given the deluge of daily Leaf coverage, I think this story needs way more than one headline in the Globe and Mail to qualify as “ad nauseam speculation”

You want ad nauseam? From the hiring of Maurice, through free agency, the pre-season and up to the first game of the year the "who's going to score?" angle was the dominant early story line for the Leafs' media circus. Thankfully it disappeared pretty quickly when the Buds scored 17 goals in 3 games. (That said, the “who will score/ lack of a scoring winger for Mats” will be the Zombie meme this season. It will refuse to die - rearing its ugly head every time the Leafs squeeze their sticks a bit too hard and the score sheet ends-up blank.)

With the lack of scoring story falling off the map, the poor ice quality at the ACC jumped into the frame like a semi-skilled winger blowing by Hal Gill. It was first cited as a possible contributor to Kubina’s injury, then as the worst ice in the league, quickly followed by stories of the state-of-the-art dehumidifier coming to the ACC for 2007-‘08 and most recently as a reason the Leafs couldn’t play their “up-tempo game” against the Avs. (Please. The Leafs stank it up last night and it had nothing to do with the ice). The team has played maybe six games and I’ve already had my fill of the bad ice story line.

Bottom line: not enough people care about JFJ as a GM or a person for the lame-duck GM angle to really take hold. From my perspective, far more fans will be upset if MLSE signs JFJ to a long-term deal than if he’s left to dangle until the playoffs.

At 3:18 p.m., October 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) Your last question: "do they make the playoffs" will more than anything determine what the Leaf ownership does with JFJ
2) Even if Raycroft plays lights out, they seem to have great potential prospects, and Gill/Kubina have good years. If that doesn't equate into a playoff team that wins a round or more, we feel JFJ will be toast
3) This is the New NHL, its Win NOW!!

At 4:48 p.m., October 19, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Given the deluge of daily Leaf coverage, I think this story needs way more than one headline in the Globe and Mail to qualify as “ad nauseam speculation”

One headline? Hardly.

Even just the past few days, Howard Berger's been talking about this on the Fan, and the Sun wrote about it on Tuesday. Put in the past few months of coverage, as well as fans saying how his being a lame duck will hurt the team, and it's a little much.

Bottom line: not enough people care about JFJ as a GM or a person for the lame-duck GM angle to really take hold.

I agree entirely. Which is why I'm wondering why we're hearing about it so often.

At 5:58 p.m., October 19, 2006, Blogger ninja said...

Lame duck? I don't know, but that picture reminds me of Danny Devito's Penguin.

I don't know why JFJ getting re-signed is such a big story. Well that's not true. The 'why' is pretty obvious. It was reported last spring that MLSE will wait and see how the team performs over the season before JFJ gets an extension.

And Maurice could be by far JFJ's best move.

At 10:36 p.m., October 19, 2006, Blogger MF37 said...

I’m surprised that google turned up over 500 hits for JFF and lame duck…as for fans caring about it, I’m not so sure. The sports radio airwaves aren’t filled with calls from fans inquiring about Ferguson’s contract status. The board at hasn’t had a posting on this topic since July – this is a message board that generated over nine pages on Jamie Rivers potentially becoming a Leaf. And none of the Leaf blogs I know of have posted on it.

Another reason the lame duck story isn’t resonating? It’s inside baseball. Only sports reporters seem to care.

As for why this may be a hot topic for the media to throw around I'll give you my three guesses:

1. With the Leafs playing against expectations to date, no other story has been able to really take hold and stick.

2. If I were in JFJ's shoes, I'd certainly be looking for a contract extension. To that end, it's a message I'd be subtly carrying to the media at every opportunity. I'd be expecting my friends and allies to do the same.

3. Laziness. It's an easy to story to file - it combines conflict, office politics, big business, hockey and a columnist's two best pals: speculation and anonymous sources. All you need is a dead body and/or a hooker with a heart of gold and the race would be on for a book deal.

My question is - how long before the JFJ as lame duck stories become the all too easy to file "who will replace JFJ?" horse-race stories?

Colin Campbell's people are likely already working the phon


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