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No easy fix for Leafs

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

It’s been a November best not remembered for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Their record for the month was a dismal 4-6-3, dropping them by month’s end to last in the Northeast Division and second-last in the Eastern Conference. With only nine victories in their first 25 games, the Leafs tied with the lowly Washington Capitals for fewest victories in the league.

The Leafs woes came to a head on Nov. 24, when they put forth a listless effort in dropping a 5-1 decision to the rebuilding Phoenix Coyotes before a nationwide audience on Hockey Night in Canada, stoking the anger of the disgruntled denizens of “Leafs Nation.”

GM John Ferguson was the main target for fans and pundits, who called for not only his dismissal, but also purges of the coaching staff and veteran players.

Those clamoring for a major overhaul of the Leafs this season could be disappointed, as there isn’t any quick fix that can reverse the struggling club’s fortunes.

The Toronto media suggested GMs with winning resumes such as Carolina’s Jim Rutherford, Detroit’s Ken Holland and Anaheim’s Brian Burke as potential replacements for Ferguson.

If the Leafs hope to hire away a rival club’s GM they must first seek permission first to talk to him, which won’t be granted during a season as, such as players and coaches, GMs are also under contract. Any such contact over the course of a season constitutes tampering, a major “no-no” in the NHL.

Any potential mid-season replacement with NHL experience would have to be an ex-GM like John Muckler, Mike Milbury, Doug MacLean or former Leafs GM Pat Quinn.

Some might stump for the return of “the Mighty Quinn,” but during his previous tenure he either spent his way out of trouble or dealt young talent for veterans in quick-fix trades, methods that won’t work in today’s salary cap world.

The Ottawa Senators went to the Stanley Cup final with Muckler as GM, but the bulk of that team was in place before he came in and he’s made his share of questionable moves in recent years.

Milbury and MacLean’s respective records with the Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets suggest they’re not the men who can turn the Maple Leafs into Cup contenders.

Hiring former star players like Steve Yzerman, Mark Messier, Ron Francis or Doug Gilmour is also a bad idea. Those guys made their names as players, not as GMs. None of them have significant management experience, and the last thing the Maple Leafs need is a greenhorn in the general manager’s chair.

Even if Ferguson were replaced by mid-season there isn’t much a new GM could do to magically turn the moribund Leafs into a Cup contender.

Firing head coach Paul Maurice would only make him a scapegoat. Maurice is doing his best with the roster Ferguson gave him and there’s no guarantee replacing him will turn things around.

As for making major trades during the season to being the rebuilding process, that’s easier said than done.

Leafs fans have their obvious favorites for trade bait, like goaltender Andrew Raycroft, defensemen Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle and forward Nik Antropov. Some in the media are also calling for team captain Mats Sundin to be shopped in hopes his high market value could land a substantial return.

Unfortunately there are mitigating factors preventing most if not all of those players from being moved, the most significant being the “no-trade” clauses in the contracts of Sundin, McCabe and Kaberle.

As long as they wish to remain with the Maple Leafs, there’s nothing Ferguson or his successor can do about it.

Raycroft’s poor performance and his $2 million per season contract won’t attract any takers. Antropov’s injury history would limit his market value and given that he’s having a career season it’s doubtful he’ll be shopped.

Even if those clamoring for sweeping changes get their wish by the New Year, at best it’ll turn the Leafs into a marginal playoff team that’ll be lucky to survive the first round. Not even the most fanatical Leafs fan would buy into the notion of this team turning into Stanley Cup contenders.

Significant changes are likely in store for the Maple Leafs, but probably not until the end of this season.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays only on Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website,, and is a contributing writer for and Eishockey Magazine.


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