I know there is ALOT of heat on JFJ and Paul Maurice right now, so, I thought this was a good time to consolidate all relevant information on what JFJ has actually done. Before I go any further, it is important to understand that all GM's make mistakes and all GM's make some good moves. This blog is just meant to provide an objective view on the actual facts (with a little of my own commentary and opinions thrown in). Personally, as of today, I am torn on JFJ - I know this sounds strange, as on the surface, it appears as though its a slam dunk that he should be fired. Digging deeper into the situation however, I am not so sure. I have zero confidence that anyone better is currently available - and as such, allowing JFJ to learn and improve isnt such a bad option - JFJ can only be judged as GM from the day he managed to take control from Pat Quinn. The 2 years the men "worked together" is not a time you could hold JFJ accountable - as even though he was handed the GM job Pat Quinn had, Pat Quinn was still very much in control. It was only after Quinn made 2 fatal deadline day trades and missed the playoffs after the lockout that JFJ was able to remove Quinn completely and begin to re-build this team from the ashes left by Quinn.
- Built Organizational Depth - JFJ inherited a team with pretty much nothing. The farm system was bare, no high draft picks in the upcoming 2 drafts (as Quinn traded them all away year after year) and a very old team with practically zero of their own draft picks playing on their NHL roster. He has since built a very strong farm system (Marlies will be one of the best teams in the AHL this year - which is the first sign that a team is turning the corner) - has stockpiled a good number of young players with good upside in North America and in Europe - and has all of their important picks available in the upcoming draft. There are no can't miss superstars coming through, but, without any top 3-5 picks in recent memory, really this is no surprise. Having said this, 4-6 prospects certainly have the chance to develop into top players in the NHL.
- plucked players like Simone Gamache, John Pohl and Boyd Devereaux from nowhere and for nothing - they have proven to be suitable NHL'ers in certain situations and certainly provide good depth within the organization when they arent needed in the NHL
- Hired Paul Maurice who implemented an up tempo, puck pressure system that has resulted in one of the leagues best offences from a group of players that NO ONE expected to be able to score
- Showed patience with their youth and has seen the emergence of Antropov, Ponikarovsky, Steen, Stajan, Wellwood, Colaiacovo and White into legitimate front line NHL players and important pieces both to the team and as tradable commodities if they so choose.
- Recognized that goal tending was an issue with Andrew Raycroft last year (regardless of what was said publicly) and went out and acquired the best goalie available in Vessa Toskala. The price was high, but the mid first round pick will not be overly costly as this draft was the weakest in years after the first 2-3 picks. Additionally, Mark Bell will turn out to be a nice surprise in this trade and will surprise alot of Toronto fans with what he is capable of and how he plays - he is still very young and has size, speed skill and great upside.
- Signed Hal Gill for under $2M/year as a free agent. Brought some size and strong defence and penalty killing to the Leafs relatively inexpensively. Obviously slow, but, best bang for the buck at the time and a very easy contract and player to move if they ever wanted to
- Locked up Thomas Kaberle for well under market value with a multi-year contract
- Locked up Bryan McCabe for an average of $5.75M/year against the cap. Although it seemed expensive in year 1, $5.75M/year is actually below market value now for a D-Men with McCabes offence as of today and this contract will look even more attractive in the coming years - make no mistake, a top 3-4 offensive D-Man in the league over the last 3 to 4 years at $5.75M per year would be very attractive on the trade market (and yes, almost every D-Men with McCabes offence at his price range - are weak in their own zone)
- Locked up Nik Antropov for this year and next at just under $2M/year - this will turn out to be the biggest bargain contract in the NHL
- Signed Jason Blake to a $4M/year contract. Simply the steal of the free agent signings getting the best free agent goal scorer with alot of speed and heart for a fraction of the going market rate for players with that kind of output. This contract will not come back to bite them and would be EASY to move if they ever wanted to.
- Plucked Scott Clemmenson from the New Jersey Devils. Martins backup for the last few years, this guy is a GEM of a goalie and very few know it. He single handidly carried his AHL team to the Calder cup and has lit it up this year with the Marlies - he will certainly be up with the Leafs very shortly as soon as they clean up this Raycroft mess
- Traded a highly rated prospect for Andrew Raycroft, then needed to turn around and trade another first round and second round pick to get Toskala since Raycroft didnt work out (for the record, I think that Raycroft was worth the gamble, but, considering he was 3rd in Bostons Goalie depth charts, he over paid for Raycroft - no other way to say it)
- Was involved in the Owen Nolan and Brian Leatch trades - now, these trades had Pat Quinn written all over them - and yes, Pat Quinn was still making all of the decisions at the time - but, JFJ should have found the stones to fight Quinn on these deals and protect their youth
- Signed Ed Belfour for 1 year too many and failed to buy out his contract after the lockout when there was the 1 time provision available to do so without any cap hit - Again, probably more of a Pat Quinn decision, but again, he should have had the stones to fight Quinn and MLSE on this one
- Under pressure of losing his job, went out and signed Pavel Kubina for $25M over 5 years. This was simply a panic move. Kubina might even be worth the money, but, the Leafs didn't need him. JFJ underestimated his young defencemen and should have lived and died with the kids and allowed them to grow and learn in the NHL - as many of them were ready. JFJ really tied his own hands with this move, as he was left with a big chunk of the salary cap tied up in offensive defencemen who are all a little suspect in their own zone (Kubina, McCabe and to a lesser extent, Kaberle). Kubina has proven to be redundant on the blue line, and even though I like him as a player, they simply do not need him and cannot have both Kubina and McCabe on the same defense core. His contract has obviously proven to be quite difficult to trade.
- Should have traded Tucker last year when his value was at its highest vs signing him to a no trade clause contract. He could have gotten a very good young prospect in return for Tucker and had $3M of cap room to play with.
- gave out too many no trade clause contracts. and even though most were in the "right" place, they are limiting his options - and even though the Leafs probably do not want to trade McCabe or Kaberle, other teams KNOW they CANT and as such, they are getting squeezed hard in any trade talks.
- Keeping Andrew Raycroft and trying to create a market for him. If you couldn't trade him in the off season, TOO BAD - trying this 2 goalie system and watching Raycroft throw away game after game is an embarrassment - For your sake JFJ - I sure hope the Leafs dont miss the playoffs by 1-4 points - otherwise this little maneuver of yours will certainly run you out of Toronto. The proper thing to do here is admit Raycroft was a mistake (a good gamble, but a mistake) and demote him to the minors. People and fans in Toronto respect honesty.
- Has zero cap room. JFJ needs to clear some some cap room - without it, his hands are tied. The new NHL does not require a team to be horrible for a few years to get quality players (though this does certainly help). However, with the new age of free agency, salary caps and rules around restricted free agents - top tier players will start becoming available at a very young age - heck, BEFORE their prime - but, without cap room, these players will be unattainable. We shouldnt be too hard on JFJ, as many GM's have made this mistake - and its cost alot of teams dearly - but, it is time for JFJ to trim payroll, identify expiring contracts, replace a few veterans with a bit more youth with better upside and lower payrolls.
- Traded Brandon Bell for Yannick Perrault at last years trade deadline. Bell may not ever turn into a legitimate NHL defenceman - but, this trade was useless - and basically gave away Bell for absolutely nothing of value.