Thursday, June 28, 2007

Someone to Watch Over Me

In most organizations the probation period is, what, about three months? At MLSE it appears to be about four years.

Yesterday, MLSE President and CEO Richard “Dick” Peddie confirmed that MLSE has retained an executive search firm to hire a senior hockey executive to provide counsel to their hockey department.

In what can only be charitably described as backhanded compliment, Peddie said that, despite JFJ being the GM position since of August of 2003 and irrevocably in charge of the Leafs for the past two year, his hand-picked GM is “still learning.”


The admission that all is not going well with JFJ’s tenure is like some sort of awful metaphorical eating contest - Peddie choking down some crow while publicly serving JFJ a great big piece of humble pie.

It also (somewhat surprisingly) confirms a story that Steve Simmons (gak!) broke over two weeks ago.

Despite two weeks of near daily media coverage, MLSE’s intentions are about as clear as JFJ’s Master Plan (you know the one-year deal to clear cap space to sign the uber UFAs who never materialized plan, which became the build-not buy plan that became the deal three first round and two second round picks in four years plan, which sort of fit in with the tougher to play against plan that didn’t really work out, leaving the Leafs with the make the playoffs at all cost and CYA plan. Whew.)

If it weren’t so pathetic and I weren’t such a Leafs fan the punch lines would be coming faster than an Aloisius Q. Iafrate slapshot (Peddie said to Howard Berger, "What I've told John is to behave like he's the General Manager..." maybe if JFJ had been given that advice four years ago, the Leafs might not be in the mess they're in.)

Here’s the media trail*:

June 14, Steve Simmons was the first with the dirt on MLSE’s efforts to hire an external hockey professional to act in senior consulting role.

On June 22, the Star ran an article headlined “Leafs hang out help wanted sign” with an official non-denial from Peddie: "Richard Peddie, president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., would not comment on the club's interest in Muckler but did say bringing an experienced hockey man on board has not been ruled out."

June 23 – The next day, buried in a Damien Cox article, Cox wrote: “With MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum and director Dale Lastman unrelenting in their drive to get rid of Ferguson or bring in a senior hockey executive to add yet another complicating layer to the Leaf bureaucracy, you have to believe Ferguson knew that he no longer can patiently build for a future of which he can't count on being part of.”

Two days later, Bob MacKenzie gets in on it, confirming details of the executive search firm.

June 26 – Simmons updates his original scoop, claiming Bowman and Burke have declined the opportunity with MLSE, that Muckler has been added to the list, and that the position may not be as autonomous as previous reports have suggested.

The same day, Cox writes a piece in his “blog” (why the Star insists on calling Cox’s second 500 word column a blog is beyond me…) that pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter:

If the Leafs really believe they need a "senior" person, then they should simply can Ferguson and let the "senior" person take over, clean house and start fresh…these Leafs need fewer layers, not more.
David Johnson is the first blogger to weigh in, offering some serious thoughts on why Muckler may not be the best man for the gig.

The very next day, Sportsnet’s Jim Kelley echoes David Johnson’s thoughts: “If you're going to hire a guy to eventually be Ferguson's successor, perhaps even in mid-season next season, well perhaps you want someone who has a track record in the position.”

Mirtle sort of weighs in too.

And that brings us to June 28 with the story everywhere and Peddie pretty much confirming the content of Simmons’ June 14 article.

If you stitch together two weeks and twelve pieces of coverage, what do you get?

Not a whole lot:

  • Tannenbaum and Lastman are not JFJ supporters, Peddie appears to be (or is at the very least executing a very public CYA move to put some distance between himself and JFJ)
  • MLSE has retained an executive search firm to find a senior hockey executive to provide additional counsel to MLSE
  • Implicitly, the search for senior counsel to "help" JFJ suggests the MLSE board has less than 100% confidence in their GM
  • JFJ will not get an extension at this time, but his job is allegedly safe (wtf?)
  • Bowman, and possibly Burke, were offered the gig and said "no thanks"
  • Muckler appears to be the "compromise" candidate (FWIW, the last compromise candidate at MLSE was JFJ and didn't that just turn out golden?)
  • The job is either fully autonomous and the equivalent to Colangelo or Embry's position with the Raptors, or the new hire has to keep JFJ and likely most of JFJ's staff (that's two wtf's if you're keeping score)

While I do feel for JFJ for what is essentially a very public demotion (especially given the health of his father) I think it was a long time coming.

JFJ was either unable, or unwilling in the face of board pressure, to stick to his very public plans to rebuild this franchise. He has made a series of questionable moves that have left the club mired in the middle of the pack.

The team may be better off than when he was hired, but four years and many mistakes later, they're certainly no closer to challenging for anything more than a playoff spot.

As a Leaf fan for nearly 40 years - from the return of Punch Imlach to the days of Brophy; from Tom Watt and Doug Carpenter to Luca Cereda and Jeff Ware; from Mike Smith, Anders Hedberg and Ken Dryden to Boyes for Nolan; from the hiring of JFJ "the compromise candidate" to Bell and a 2nd for Perreault - I've learned to never underestimate the Leafs' ability to make poor decisions.

That said, the sooner JFJ is removed from a position of decision making authority, the better.

*Say what you will about Steve Simmons and his hyperbolic columns, but he’s had two of the biggest scoops in Leaf Land this off-summer. While his story of Sundin’s hip may have made it sound like the Big Swede had contracted Ebola, a careful read of that column demonstrates a Clinton-like ability to use modifiers and passive language to cover his ass. He's also the guy that broke this story two full weeks before MLSE owned up to the truth...


  1. I agree with most of this.

    My only complaint is, why wasn’t this plan to find a real hockey mind executed a few months ago? Like, before the draft, and before Ferguson mortgaged the Leafs’ future on a career backup goalie?

    Though really, even better would have been in 2003. The Leafs could have hired Burke instead. Or John Davidson, or a whole whack of other totally qualified and experienced hockey guys instead of Ferguson.

    I used to feel a lot of pride being a Leaf fan. It used to be enough to strut about in my blue shirt, reveling in their latest humiliation of the Ottawa Senators. But – the team that last did that is a lot different than the one we’ve got today. And the youtube clips of my all-time Leafs high water mark – the 1993 playoffs – are look positively ancient.

    How much longer until I see the Leafs run competently?

    I’ve seriously been questioning why I follow the team at all. It’s why I stopped blogging about them a few months ago. Last Friday, after a week of making imaginary trade-rumours to fellow Leafers (Vokoun was who I wanted all along – the agreed-upon trade that would appeal to both sides was Pogge and this year’s 1st-rounder traded for Vokoun and this year’s 2nd-rounder, a pick to be used on a replacement goalie prospect.)

    Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a top-drawer goalie like Vokoun would become available for a mere three picks. And never, ever, could I imagine that not only was Vokoun available, but Nashville actually came knocking on the Leafs’ door, only to have it shut in their faces. “Vokoun wouldn’t fit under the cap,” Ferguson told the press. Not only was that not true, but the cap situation (most expensive D in the league, for instance) was entirely Ferguson’s own design, so if he was not in a position to obtain a bonafide #1 goalie, a man who would instantly put the Leafs back into contention, moreso than ANY of the current available free agents would, this was Ferguson’s own fault.

    A two-hour rant on the phone Friday night released some of the poison, but the bitterness remains.

    I jokingly poked at Ferguson before, but now there’s no doubt in my mind: the man is an idiot, lacking any big-picture hockey sense. His time with the team has been ruinous, and the only thing greater than his failings has been the decision of the Board to hire him in the first place – and keep him on past the time when everybody realized he can’t do the job.

    He isn’t a bad man. I actually pity his incompetence. He just – doesn’t know what he’s doing. The longer he stays, the worse it becomes.

    He doesn’t need a babysitter. He just needs to go.

    I don’t know if I can watch another lost season, knowing in my heart the Leafs just don’t have the guns to compete. And never will under the current regime.

  2. When you write posts like this it makes me want to cry.

    It's always bothered me that they didn't think JFJ was the man for the job but they kept letting him run drafts, free agency periods, and trade deadlines.

    Why does the board have to keep insisting that they are anything other than businessmen! The constant manoeuvring between those MOTHERF%$%#$S is killing Leafs fans.

    I'm going to try to convince myself that they'll do well this year while secretly worrying about what young players JFJ is going to move at the deadline to make the playoffs. Early money is on Steen and Stajan and at least one d-man.