Back when JFJ was hired was the time for a senior consultant not once he had already learned on the job and become a dysfunctional exec of sorts. So when the Leafs began their 'search' late this summer for a consultant, that pretty much signaled the end of JFJ's reign to me. It is unfortunate because, not to defend JFJ, but he has been largely paralysed by the board's conflicted will. So when he says they need to stay the course he actually means "I lack both the autonomy and the authority to do anything about this mess." When JFJ was hired, it was with zero experience as a GM and he's been doing on the job learning. It seems to me although he has at least shown some ability to learn and improve. Before his hands became tied by the board he showed some creativity in making high risk-high reward trades. Do you think we'd be talking about replacements if Raycroft had regained his Calder form with the Leafs? But yes, he has made a serious of serious errors in building this disaster of a Toronto squad and for this, it IS time to look elsewhere.
OK, it has been established that its time for a change up top. Let's be real here for a second... this isn't an organization that excels at bold moves per say. Until ownership buds out and stops meddling with the day to day hockey operations, no one of note is going to come to Toronto. This meddling and attention only to organizational politics is a huge reason that the Leafs are rapidly approaching a half century without a cup. It's why Bob Gainey is in Montreal right now. This is what kept Bowman out, and this is what will ultimately dissuade Colin Campbell, or Craig Patrick, or Dave Taylor from taking the Leafs seriously. For the Leafs to get a qualified candidate, Richard Peddie needs to concentrate on what he's good at and stop messing with what he's not. Richard Peddie is a brilliant financial planner and forecaster, problem is: he knows nothing about the sport of hockey. Keep him around for what he's good at, but find someone else to run with the title of President, and in doing so they need to have autonomy from the board. If this changes, then we can honestly say that the Leafs are improving SOMETHING.
As for choices... lets narrow it down to people who are available right now. The situation is degrading too quickly for this to wait until the off season and the real chance of landing Lou Lamoriello, Ken Holland, or Bryan Burke is nil. Next up... to avoid repeating the same mistakes as before, let's not hire someone WITH ZERO EXPERIENCE IN MANAGEMENT! As lovely as it would be to hire Yzerman, Messier, Francis, Nieuwendyk, and anyone else with a cup ring and HoF credentials, being a good player does not a great manager make. What the Leafs need is a president with enough gumption to keep the board playing with finances and not hockey operations.
I kept reading Scotty Bowman earlier in the year... as great a coach as he was... I'm really not sold on him as a GM. He just seems like a Pat Quinn type fellow... someone who has the capability to hold a dual profile but really is much better at coaching than management. Now having said that... Bowman is a no-nonsense guy who if hired as President, could keep the board's hands off the GM and provide instant credibility. Of course he would have to get assurances to the extent from the board and be willing to leave his retirement position with the Red Wings, neither of which is certain. Bowman would be most ideal as President however is a very unlikely candidate.
Dave Taylor is another experienced executive, and actually one of my favourite picks to helm the Leafs. If he had the autonomy there is no doubt that he would be able to make the tough decisions, handle the media, and have some spectacular drafts. Much of the LA Kings current success is due to Taylor's drafting. He is someone who could dual-wield the titles of President and GM and seems like a safe name with a solid pedigree.
Mike Milbury's name has been mentioned in certain circles. Would I want Milbury running the Leafs? There is no doubt that he's not reluctant to pull the trigger on trades and he WILL make the tough decisions... its his judgement that is up for debate. As suspect as JFJ is for the Rask-Raycroft deal... what about Milbury's Luongo, Jokinen for Kvasha, Parish trade? You could have a veritable All-Star team from the young players that Milbury gave up: Luongo, Jokinen, Bertuzzi, McCabe, Berard, Redden, Brewer, Hamrlik, Chara, Spezza (just to name a few). Overshadowed by his questionable trades is his very very solid drafting.
Neil Smith is an established name, although there are serious questions to be answered about his short tenure with the Isles. Does it mean that he is unwilling to budge or adapt to how he wants to run a team? That makes him virtually unsuitable to Toronto's needs. Although he could handle the pressure cooker that is Toronto, and could likely have his old buddy Messier, perform some Assistant-type work (for those of you who are in love with the idea of old players being employed).
Colin Campbell has some interesting qualifications in that he has played, coached and been an executive in the league. No doubt he can handle the Toronto media as he faces constant scorn leaguewide whenever he hands down suspensions. Campbell would be a fairly solid pick were he to want the job. Problem is that he's fairly comfortable (from what I understand) with his NHL job and the Leafs just don't offer any stability for someone who currently has alot of it.
John Muckler has a proven draft record both in Buffalo and Ottawa and to be honest it still puzzles me a little why the Senators made the move they did to get rid of him (Although Murray's handling of long term contracts has left no doubt that it was the right decision). Muckler put together a dynasty in Ottawa and has the cajones to play hard in the game of GM. You could do alot worse than Muckler as President and hiring a GM or having him take both jobs.
I really like Jim Nill as a choice as he has had a great deal of impact in Detroit and there's only so long such a capable assistant will stay in the shadows. He has an extensive scouting background and does good contract work in Detroit. I think that Ken Holland would see a serious reduction in effectiveness without Nill around. Problem is that Nill doesn't have enough star power or resume to take on the politic-ing of the board. Another issue is that Nill is still under contract in Detroit and wouldn't likely be available until the summer.
An intriguing choice would be Devils Head Scout David Conte. Conte is a huge reason that Lamoriello has been able to keep the Devils competitive for so long. Much like situation in Detroit with Nill, it may be difficult for the Devils to hold on to their executive talent with such a high profile job available. Conte would be a strong choice should the Leafs be going the rebuilding route.
I know there's some anti-Maurice sentiment starting but as surely as the President should choose the GM, the GM should evaluate the coaching situation and pick his own coach. So my choice for coach at this juncture is Paul Maurice. However, were I to pick someone off the top of my head to lead the Leafs from behind the bench right this instant... I'd go with Pat Burns. He's a guy who gets his players to work, he emphasizes defensive responsibility and has had previous success in Toronto. No way the media would get under this guy's skin. Problem again is whether or not he'd be willing to take the job, as he's pretty comfortable where he is. I think that Mark Messier would make a better coach than Executive. He's a tough guy with such a resume that it'd be impossible for him to lose the room. I can't imagine him putting up with crap from anyone.
So there is my evaluation of the situation... my ultimate picks?
1st Choice- President: Scotty Bowman, GM: Jim Nill
2nd Choice- President: Bob Nicholson, GM: David Conte
3rd Choice- President and GM: Dave Taylor
I always appreciate your comments.