One of the main topics of conversation on The Hot Stove Lounge on Hockey Night in Canada this past Saturday night was the future of John Ferguson Jr. There were a lot of opinions on this topic but the one that really caught my attention was the idea that other candidates for the job when JFJ was hired were turned down because they wanted to take the team apart and start from scratch. Anybody that is a Leaf fan or knows anything about “Leafs Nation” at all knows that Leaf fans are one of the most demanding fan bases in all of sports, meaning that winning isn’t everything it’s the only thing and when this doesn’t happen things get kind of ugly to say the least.
Now with that in mind MLSE and Ferguson give us all the same tired lineup each year with a couple small alterations promising this will be the team that will make the playoffs, and for the last three years including the lockout year there has been no hockey in the spring time in Toronto. The Maple Leafs are a team that really doesn’t have a path to follow or a plan to get this team the Stanley Cup that has been missing for forty years, the goal is to make the playoffs whether it be the 8th seed or first seed, and every year Leafs Nation buys into when really even the most intermediate hockey fan knows that this team is going to struggle just to get that eighth seed let alone put a cup run together.
The point of running a business is to make profit, and based on the fact that the Leafs have been named in a recent Forbes magazine article as the most valuable franchise in the NHL they have done a great job doing this. To think all of this without winning a Stanley cup in 40 years and having 15 other teams win one in that time. It seems that no matter how good or bad the team is people buy the tickets, the jerseys the hats and so on, so isn’t it only fair that the team delivers something that it’s fans can be proud of?
To accomplish this, the team needs to come up with a plan, and the top of the priority list MLSE has to find a General Manager that it’s comfortable enough with to give a long term contract and then allow him to do the job without interference. This is not something that MLSE has never done before see the Toronto Raptors. They went out and got one of the best in the business to run the team and in one season created a team that went from worst to first in there division.
Once the General Manager is in place a rigorous re-building plan needs to take place. This could mean a new coach, perhaps even trading Maple Leaf icon Mats Sundin, for and get ready for this…….draft picks! Under the most recent Leaf regimes draft picks have been seen as somewhat of an inconvenience. In today’s NHL it’s a necessity to build through the draft, and teams that do this and do it right tend to see great results. The last three cup champions have road the coat tails of players that they acquired through the draft. With prospects such as John Tavares and Jonathan Stampkos coming soon the time to start is now.
Once the Leafs have been bad enough to acquire the high draft picks needed to pick these quality youngsters they need to take the time to allow them to develop. This would mean keeping them long enough to see them become future all-stars and perhaps lead the team to a Stanley Cup. This could take a year or two but while these players are coming into there own the draft can be used to draft more young talent to provide needed depth.
I realize that with the current contracts and no trade clause players that are currently on the roster it will be a difficult task to make all of this happen, but a good General Manager has the smarts and creativity to turn a mess into a masterpiece and this is why the next general manager whomever it may be will have a long messy and long process ahead of him. With support (not interference) of MLSE and a little patience from the fans even the Maple Leafs could be Stanley Cup champions once again.