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The positive imprint of John Ferguson Jr. on the Maple Leafs shouldn’t be ignored

I’m certainly among those who believe that the hiring of John Ferguson Jr. back in the summer of 2003 was not the right move at the time.  I didn’t like the hiring at the time and looking back, still don’t in terms of the direction the franchise ultimately went.

That said, I blame that on Richard Peddie and Larry Tanenbaum more than anyone or anything else.  They, for reasons known only to them, felt they had to fix something that was not “broke”.

The idea of bringing in a bright, young, not-yet-seasoned manager was probably a good one, if the Leafs were looking to bring in an energetic Assistant GM to Pat Quinn, someone who would eventually take over the reins after some-on-the-job training under a veteran hand.

But we all know that’s not how things went down.  Tanenbaum and Peddie were determined to shake things up, and when Ken Dryden and Quinn could not agree, as the story goes, on a GM candidate, Peddie’s man, Ferguson, assumed control.

He took a team that, while imperfect, was very, very competitive coming out of the 2003 playoffs and eventually he created a team (with no small “credit” going to his MLSE superiors, I’m sure) that simply wasn’t very good, regardless of who coached it—Quinn, Paul Maurice or Ron Wilson, each an otherwise highly-successful NHL coach.

Whether Ferguson wasn’t as prepared as other GM’s coming out of the lockout, didn’t take advice from experienced people in the organization or simply made a couple of bad trades (e.g. Rask to Boston, after drafting him) and poor signings (Jason Blake’s big contract), things did not work out as Leaf fans would have hoped.

But that is not to say he did not do things which have been a benefit to the organization to this day.  Under his watch, as people like to say, the Leafs drafted and signed some players who may yet become cornerstones of any success the club has in the future.  It’s not a long list, but an important one. 

James Reimer is a Ferguson guy, drafted by the Leafs in the 4th round in 2006 out of Red Deer in the Western Junior League.  It’s hard to argue that was anything but a great pick, even if he doesn’t have a long and outstanding career.  Those who followed Reimer’s junior career or time in the East Coast league or with the Marlies perhaps saw his emergence coming.  Many of us did not.  He continues to impress at the World Championships, a good sign for the future.

Carl Gunnarsson, to me, is “this close” to becoming an elite defenseman.  While still flawed, he someone with legitimate potential to be a big-minute, shutdown defenseman.  Ferguson and his scouting staff of the time selected Gunner in the 7th round in 2007.  That’s the kind of stuff that made the Red Wings draft legends, selecting a guy late yet seeing him turn into an elite-level player. Gunnarsson still has a ways to go to get to that level, of course, but I remain of the view that he can get there.  He should sign a new contract soon.

But perhaps the real gem was the choice of Nikolai Kulemin in the 2nd round in 2006.  Kulemin has gotten better and better every year, and may be the most complete forward on the Leaf roster right now.  He can definitely be categorized as an authentic “top-six” forward, something the Leafs have been in short supply of in recent years.

(I should mention that not only Reimer but also Gunner and Kulemin are all representing their country at the ongoing World Championships right now in Europe.)

Throw in Darryl Boyce, signed as a free agent in January of ’08, who really contributed to the Leafs this season as a hard-working winger.   And Marlies captain Alex Foster, a character player and a significant influence on young Leaf hopefuls at the AHL level, and you have five pieces of what is slowly becoming a pretty good Maple Leaf team.

Ferguson also signed Tomas Kaberle at a good price on a long-term deal, which ultimately helped make it easier (though it didn’t feel that way through all Burke’s efforts to do just that) him to get dealt to the Bruins for Colborne and a first-rounder, as the Bruins did not have to take on a ton of salary to make the deal.

I’m not trying to canonize Ferguson, but he was a guy perhaps in over his head at the time.  He is by all accounts a sincere and decent man (he certainly comes from great hockey stock; his dad, John Sr. was one of the toughest guys in the NHL in the 1960s, helping Montreal win 5 Cups in his 8 year career.  Click here to see an earlier post on some of the old-time "policemen" who could really play the game, too) and tried his best to do the job in Toronto.  He is now part of the successful management staff in San Jose.

But just as Burke and Dave Nonis receive credit, and rightly so, for the finger marks they left on the Vancouver franchise which may now be the NHL’s best team, and Bryan Murray does for his work with the Ducks before he left and they won a Cup, Ferguson Jr. should not be forgotten for the good things he helped bring to the blue and white.



  1. JFJ is now a pro scout, that seems to be the position he excels at.

    If Toronto can get him as part of a super-scouting team in the future that would be ok.

  2. You should write a long post (or series) on ALL of JFJ's drafts, Michael. I detest his trading and signing skills like most, but he does have a very good drafting sense.
    I may have mentioned it before, but if you haven't read King of Russia by Dave King, there's a lot of material on Kulemin playing on King's Magnitogorsk squad along with Malkin, and a couple other famous ex-Leafs as well. Great read.

  3. Thanks Greg and KidK...I will check out the King book/link. I just believe it's important not to dismiss the good things that Ferguson did that have helped the team going forward.

  4. Dude, are you out of your mind? Based on 5 players acquired by JFJ, you are suggesting it wasn't ALL bad and that he wasn't completely incompetant? Reimer was a 4th round pick - total crapshoot. More undrafted players make the league than 4ht rounders. Even a broken clock is right twice a day!

  5. "Throw in Darryl Boyce, signed as a free agent in January of ’08, who really contributed to the Leafs this season as a hard-working winger."

    Ooooooooooooooooookay. LOL

  6. Jason, I admire how hard Boyce worked to make it to the NHL. And sometimes, those under-the-radar signings work out well. He made a contribution while he was here, and, for me, was a nice signing with no risk and only upside.

    He delivered mora than anyone expected.