Leafs’ fans owe Fergie some thanks

There is no disputing that, before he left the Toronto Maple Leafs as their general manager, John S. Ferguson was widely vilified in the Leafs Nation. Maybe he deserved that send off. Maybe he didn’t. But, as the Leafs gear up for the final 16 games of the regular season – five points in arrears of eighth in the East – it’s worth remembering some of the better things Ferguson did for the Leafs.

When he was hired, in August 2003, Ferguson replaced Pat Quinn as the Leafs’ GM. But Quinn continued as the Leafs’ head coach for two more seasons. It’s pretty safe to say that Ferguson never, ever should have accepted this arrangement. But, as a 36-year old rookie GM, Ferguson wasn’t in a position to refuse Richard Peddie’s offer.

As a quick aside, John S. Ferguson will not be referred to as “Jr.” here – because he’s technically not a “Jr.” His father’s middle name was Bowie. His middle name is Stuart. It’s the same reason that George W. Bush was never referred to as “Jr.” His middle name(s) were not exactly the same as those of his father.

John S. first headed the Leafs’ draft table in 2004 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Alexander Ovechkin went first overall to Washington. Ferguson’s Leafs did not choose until the third round. In the 90th spot, Ferguson drafted goaltender Justin Pogge. He’s played just seven NHL games and turned into a decent AHLer. The other six men the Leafs drafted that day were unremarkable.

In 2005, Ferguson finally had a first-round choice – and he used it to select Tuukka Rask, another goaltender. Rask may have a great playoff run this year but, sadly, it won’t be with the Leafs. Ferguson dealt Rask away in the summer of 2006, to Boston, for Andrew Raycroft. It was, perhaps, the worst trade Ferguson ever made. The rest of the men chosen by Toronto in that 2005 draft were, again, unremarkable.

But here’s where it starts to get interesting. In 2006, after the first post-lockout season, Ferguson chose Jiri Tlusty first. And it’s his next two picks that are two of the men most responsible for the Leafs still being in the 2011 playoff race in early March.

With pick 44, in the second round, Ferguson chose Nikolai Kulemin. All he’s done this season is be one of the most consistent forwards on the Leafs’ roster. His 24 goals rank him 26th in the league. And Kulemin’s five game-winning goals lead the team.

Then, with the Leafs’ very next pick, number 99, Ferguson left his strongest mark on this year’s team. He chose James Reimer. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. When he was drafted, Reimer had played just one season with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. That season, the 17-year old Reimer had just seven wins in 34 games. Pretty good foresight on Ferguson’s part. The scouts make the suggestions, but the GM always has the final say.

The next year, 2007, Ferguson chose Carl Gunnarsson way down in 194th spot. Another prudent choice. John S. Ferguson’s tenure as Toronto’s GM is not fondly remembered by most. But, as the club tries to successfully complete an improbable run to the post-season, we may want to briefly acknowledge the man who brought some of this year’s stalwarts to town.

  • CoryNewb

    So, what you’re saying is Fergie was a good late round drafter, a terrible trader, and not good in the first round.
    Burkie is pretty much the opposite so far? He has got to be the most clever trade-maker ever. Like, he got someone to take Jason Blake? And he got Dion Phaneuf AND Aulie for a bag of marbles. He must use hynosis.

    • So far, so good, with Burke. Whether or not this team makes the playoffs, it should be considered a successful year for the Leafs.

      But do they continue to improve next year? The pressure on Burke gets greater and greater.

  • CoryNewb

    Ferguson was a good general manager in the pre-lockout system when he had budget room to cover his mistakes. No one should forget the moves he made to bring in Joe Nieuwendyk, Brian Leetch, and Ron Francis. The problem with Ferguson was that he didn’t adjust to the cap era and despite good drafting, he made too many questionable trades and signings.

    Great job at selecting Kulemin, Reimer, etc, but let’s all be thankful the Leafs went in another direction when they did.