Activity Does Mean Progress

It has been the season of inactivity for the Toronto Maple Leafs. It continued today right up to the trade deadline. It really should have not come to such a big surprise that this occurred, but it only provides more fuel to the fire on the direction this team is headed.

The opportunity presented itself to the Leafs to do something. Usually, when a club is struggling so badly as the Leafs have with a 4-13-2 record in their last 19 games, something usually gives. A proactive GM would be finding ways to help stop the bleeding and improve the club. Instead, John Ferguson chose to stand pat.

So, being 8 points out and ready to start a brutal schedule that has the Leafs playing 8 of 11 on the road, the other option would be to pack it in, look to next year and restock the system. But again, Ferguson did nothing.

This type of risk averse, dithering approach is not going to get this organization anywhere. It makes many wonder if the plan that Ferguson has and continues to boast is a whole lot of nothing. Or if there is a plan, and it’s to continue on the road to mediocrity.

If that is their intention then John Ferguson is the best man for the job. If the intention is to build a winner and a credible organization then a change definitely needs to be made. MLSE only needs to look at their other franchise the Raptors to see where incompetence in management can lead you.

I do not see any reason for the Leafs to keep Ferguson on as GM after his moves mirrored the stupidity of his basketball counterpart Rob Bab*****. Changing the GM or whomever is running the hockey department would be a step in the right direction. Its true that this would go against the words said today by JFJ that activity doesnt mean progress. But really it offers hope that change will bring direction and to me, that IS progress. Seeing how the Raptors hired the last executive of the year to righten their ship in Bryan Colangelo, we know MLSE has the resources and conscienceness to hire the best.

The team needs changes first at the top before anything else. Perhaps someone with a winning pedigree, a decorated resume and credibility. To me, Ferguson was a puppet and too much of an understudy to the old regime. Nothing of what he did was anything in the way of innovative and imaginative. Retaining Belfour for 3 years at 4.5 million per with a no-trade clause? Throwing money around who were either distracted, too old, injured or incompetent? Thats the kind of stuff we saw already from his predecessors. His cap mismanagement alone is enough reason to fire him.

But to me, he simply lacks the guts and guile to do something drastic. Whether it be casting away a crowd favorite, to moving a big name out, to firing the coach, he simply cannot pull the trigger. Being gunshy is not a trait that any GM should have. The Leafs need someone who is not afraid to do something about losing.

It’s the kind of opportunity that MLSE cannot let go by. The Leafs need something new, new ideas and philosophies. Fresh minds in management and behind the bench to take the team in a new and stronger direction.

The team is in very decent shape next season to potentially build a competitive team that should only get better down the road. In a rare occurence, they will for the 2nd summer in a row have a first round pick. The improvements in scouting and development, which is the only good thing Ferguson did, should land the Leafs a good prospect. I dont really condone losing but throwing in the towel would have been a real good idea as it could have meant a higher pick. The Leafs need to really draft a young stud to build with.

The Leafs bypassed the opportunity to pick up some prospects or draft picks at the trade deadline. We will hear the excuse of a weak draft or some other thing that condones their actions. I see it as an opportunity lost. In recent years we have seen teams like the Rangers, Caps, Preds and this year the Isles load up draft picks which have restocked their systems with players they can develop themselves. It works. I am sure that Khavanov, Berg and especially McCabe could have fetched a young return considering defence was in high demand (19 defencemen were traded yesterday). But not to the current regime.

The team will also have some cap room which wasnt available last summer. Though there is no need to spend excessively, there is also no excuse to sign guys like Lindros, Khavanov, Allison again. Using the numbers taken from the Toronto Star, here is how the Leafs stand next year:

Mikael Tellqvist One year at $519,500

Tomas Kaberle Five years at $4.25 million per year

Andy Wozniewski One year at $462,500

Mats Sundin Two years at $6.3 million per year

Darcy Tucker One year at $1.6 million

Jeff O’Neill One year at $1.5 million

Tie Domi One year at $1.25 million

Alexander Steen Two years at $900,600 per year

Alexei Ponikarovsky One year at $712,500

Wade Belak One year at $670,000

UFAs: McCabe, Berg, Khavanov, Allison, Lindros, Kilger, Wilm, Richardson

RFAs: Antropov, Wellwood, Coliacovo, Stajan

Ed Belfour Team option for $4.5 million. If the Leafs don’t pick up the option, they must buy Belfour out at $1.5 million, which goes against the salary cap.

It’s likely that Belfour’s option wont be picked up so they’ll have $19.7 million committed for 2006-07. Throw in 3 of the 4 RFAs (I hope they ditch Antropov) the payroll will likely jump to roughly 23 million. With the cap potentially rising up to $41-43 million, the Leafs could have up to $20 million in cap space.

With the way Ferguson has spent MLSE’s money already, it would be counter productive to allow him the opportunity to spend another cent. It would mean more of the cluelessness that needs to stop. We have already seen the lack of forward thinking on his part the last 2 summers. Considering the only real strength in the free agent market this summer is defence, there is little reason to use all their cap room available. But we have seen Ferguson’s cap management skills already and it leaves alot to be desired. The blood evidence will be if the incompetent Aki Berg and Nik Antropov both return.

The future of the Leafs depends on what the organization does at season’s end. Right now the team is on a path to days almost as dark as it was in the Ballard years when the likes of Garry McNamara, Gord Stellick and Floyd Smith were in charge. It doesnt have to be. All it takes is someone to not take the status quo, stand pat, stick with Pat approach to building a winner.