Saturday, March 25, 2006

Tedesco, Ferguson and me...

The front page of today's (25/03/06) National Post is dominated by a story from Theresa Tedesco on the sad state of my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.

Up front, I want to make clear that I'm a big fan of Tedesco's book detailing the take-over of the Leafs from a publicly traded company to the behemoth that is MLSE, but after reading her story today, I have to say she might be better off in the FP and away from the sports pages.

The article is on the mark when it sticks to ownership and business decisions, it's when she speaks to the sporting side it makes about as much sense as some of Quinn's recent coaching decisions.

It should also be noted that this piece is clearly an effort at damage control by friends of Mr. Ferguson.

Let's have a look...

TORONTO - Amid the public wrenching over whether the Toronto Maple Leafs will qualify for the NHL playoffs, the owners of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. say they have been privately watching events unfold pretty much according to plan.

And although no one at MLSE will admit it publicly, the Leafs' post-season prospects for the next couple of seasons are not expected to be any more promising.
Ok so far, I pretty much couldn't agree with her more. Most experts said last September that this club would be life and death to make the playoffs. They're currently losing 3-1 to the Habs (make that a 6-2 loss), in the latest of many "must-win" games.

Paragraph 3 is where Ms. Tedesco starts to sound like she's dipped into the Captain Morgan with Harry and Bob.

That unspoken prognosis is largely the consequence of a youth movement advocated by Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr. in a blueprint he presented two years ago to MLSE's owners -- a strategy that, sources say, will likely result in the firing of head coach Pat Quinn at the end of this season, as well as the departure of fan favourite Tie Domi and a handful of other underperforming veterans.
There are several problems with this paragraph, if JFJ's advocating or planning a yourth movement:

  • Why didn't he buy out more of the team in the off-season? Sundin, Belfour and McCabe account for about 35% of the team's salary.
  • Why did JFJ sign so many older players, many of whom (Domi, Berg, etc.) were inked to multi-year deals?
  • Why didn't he move all of the team's unrestricted free agents at the trade deadline for picks and prospects?

  • Tedesco continues, with a greater focus on JFJ's business decisions - moving the St.Johns team to Toronto, consolidating training, medical staff and practice facilites and increasing scouting staff. But when she gets back to the team that JFJ "inherieted" she's back on some thin ice.

    Making matters worse, Mr. Ferguson also inherited a team that had traded away its top draft choices seven times in the past 10 years.
    JFJ traded a first and second round pick and prospects for Brian Leetch. Leetch went on to play 15 games for the Leafs.

    However, the 310-day NHL lockout quickly tested the company's resolve and the general manager's ability to walk the talk. Three months before the lockout began in September, 2004, Mr. Ferguson re-signed Mr. Belfour, a 40-year-old Vezina Trophy winner and all-star goalie, to a two-year contract plus an option for a third year -- totalling US$17-million -- despite his advancing age.

    JFJ should be fired for this contract alone.

    In the summer of 2004, Ed Belfour was 39 years old with chronic back injuries. There is wide-spread talk of salary caps, long-term work stoppages and general uncertainty.

    JFJ sweeps into action, signing Belfour to a three year contract worth $15.5 million (2 years at $7million, an option at $1.5m) that includes a no-trade clause.

    Think about this for a minute.

    There's no hockey on the horizon for a minimum of six months, and more likely a year. Your goalie is 39 years old and requires invasive back surgery. He hasn't made it out of the second round of the playoffs in years. He looked quite average in the series against the Flyers and he didn't steal a single game in the playoffs.

    For this, he gets a multi-year deal with a bonus and a no trade clause.

    Who in their right mind would tender this contract?

    I get the feeling I put more thought into managing my rotisserie team than this guy does running the Leafs.

    Oh, and let's not forget Ms. Tedesco's article and the master plan for a youth movement (anchored by a 40 year old goalie with a bad back). Ms. Tedesco continues:

    The following year, in June, 2005, MLSE's board reviewed the progress of Mr. Ferguson's strategic plan as the lockout appeared to be coming to an end. This time, the general manager had to address the fate of a handful of players in the twilight years of their careers who were set to become unrestricted free agents.
    I would have added three words to that last sentence, "by doing nothing."

    The Leafs, like all teams, had the opportunity to buy-out any existing contracts. Detroit moved on Hatcher, Whitney, Joseph and McCarty; the Rangers parted ways with Holik; the Flyers with Amonte, LeClair; etc.

    About 40% of the Leafs' payroll is held by three players: Sundin ($6.3M/year); Belfour ($5.6M/year) and McCabe ($3.5M/Year). Biggest flock of free agents in the history of the NHL and the Leafs did nothing. This inaction left the club with $24 M to sign 19 players.

    Under pressure to make a move, Mr. Ferguson extended Mr. Quinn's coaching contract for an undisclosed amount.

    He followed up with a series of deals that gave little outward indication that MLSE was planning an overhaul of its most prized asset.

    For example, shortly after the NHL governors and the NHL Players' Association agreed to end the lockout in July, 2005, which included a US$39-million salary cap, he allowed Messrs. Roberts and Nieuwendyk to bolt to the Florida Panthers and cut ties with winger Robert Reichel. He replaced those veterans with three others -- Eric Lindros and Jason Allison, both signed as free agents, and Jeff O'Neill, whom the Leafs secured by giving up a conditional draft pick.
    Remember, this is part of the master-plan to build with youth from within.

    Let's look at the rest of JFJ's post-labour stoppage decisions (no snickering please):

    a) acquiring Jeff O'Neill who's clearly out of shape, who didn't play during the lockout, and who's goal scoring prowess has been going down like a coked-up Paris Hilton in a room full of camcorders. After one 30 goal season (likely a contract year) he went on to score 14 goals in 2003-2004. Guess what? He's potted 16 goals for the Leafs this season and is on target for 18.

    b) Signing Eric Lindros - a guy that has averaged about 50 games a season for the last five years. Guess what? Lindros played 33 games for the Leafs before going out for the year.

    c) signing Jason Alison to an incentive laden contract that's going to cost the club $4.5M (yup, $4.5M). Has any player since Craig Janney put a softer 50+ points on the board than Alison? 30 of his points have to be second assists. His plus minus is horrific, and many of his mistakes are of the terminal variety (it was his giveaway that led to game winners from Healty and Grier). In a game dominated by speed you need a calendar to time this guy; I'm surprised a crazed leaf fan hasn't climbed the glass, jumped in the zamboni and drove over him. Lord knows Alison couldn't outskate it, even if it had three flat tires…

    d) signing Tie Domi to a 2 year, $2.5M deal. Domi has one goal in his last 49 games. When Ondrus got run from behind in Pittsburgh, Domi did nothing. When he was benched, he whined. When there were trade rumours, he threatend to retire. This is leadership? This is character?

    e) talking Antropov out of playing in Russia and qualify him for 2 years at $1.1M; Antropov has only once played more than 65 games in a season and has averaged 24 points a season. Furthermore, in 28 playoff games, he has 5 points. Guess what? Antropov is on target to play 58 games this year and score 25 points – just like has his whole career. Good thing JFJ locked him up for one more season, wouldn't want a player like that to get away.

    f) signing Aki Berg for $1.1M - think about that for a second - a fifth or sixth string defenceman for nearly triple the league minimum salary. Carolina picked up Mike Commodore for a third round pick, he makes $500K; Buffalo picked up Lydman for a 3rd round pick, he makes $700K. We resigned a pylon and gave him a raise.

    g) Paying Wade Belak $720,000 - that's $270K above the league minimum and about $719,000 more than he's worth.

    h) Landing Marius Czerkawski for $500K and then refusing to play him. He was a healthy scratch for over 40 games this year, which is important to consider because…

    i) Anson Carter wanted to play for the Leafs this season, but the Leafs couldn't afford his salary demands of $1M. Carter has played in 70 games, notching 28 goals, 21 assists and a +3 rating. Belak (43 games, no goals, 3 assists, -14) and Czerkawski (27 games, 5 goals, 2 assists, -6) have a total salary of 1.22 million and have collectively played in 70 games combining for five goals, five assists and a combined rating of -20.

    Ms. Tedesco concludes:

    Leaf loyalists may have been given a taste of what lies ahead for the team at the NHL trade deadline two weeks ago. Fans and pundits urged Mr. Ferguson to make a drastic move, even speculating that captain Mats Sundin should be traded.
    But Mr. Ferguson didn't budge, instead completing two minor deals.
    I think the dreaded third-way lies ahead, call it Babcockian. It's not making a bold move like loading up for a playoff run or selling off any and all assets that won't be returning next year, it's standing-pat and hoping for the best.

    Even the Islanders figured out the best option for this season.

    Think of that - in his final act, Mike Milbury may have become a better GM than JFJ...


    1 comment:

    1. Great post. I don't agree 100%, but then again I rarely do.

      Allison was brutal for most of the season, but alot of his assists were primary power play assists, and his speed improved with each month he played. Remember he hadn't played in like 3+ years. For a few weeks before he busted his hand he seemed to have finally gotten his legs back. Something which Sundin admitted struggling with in Februrary/early March.

      By the way, I added you to my blog roll, and I would've linked this article, but the permanlink didn't seem to work.