Painted for months in many corners as hopelessly incompetent, John Ferguson probably can go to work most days knowing the criticism can't get any worse.
Even last week after the season opening loss to Ottawa, one radio commentator was assuring his listeners that Colin Campbell would be the new Leaf GM by U.S. Thanksgiving, no later.
Well, given the Leafs are off to a solid start in this very young NHL season, it's probably fair to give JFJ some kudos for the job done so far.
After making a boatload of personnel errors coming out of the lockout, it seems as though Ferguson may have had a very good summer of '06, one that might even eventually earn him a contract extension, with his current deal set to expire after this season.
A year ago, the Leafs were just starting to learn that the players added in the summer of '05 - Eric Lindros, Jason Allison, Mariusz Czerkawski, Alexander Khavanov - were not going to make the club a winner.
This past summer, however, Ferguson started strong by firing Pat Quinn and releasing both Ed Belfour and Tie Domi.
Then he got hot:
- Paul Maurice appears to have been the perfect choice to succeed Quinn, a younger man with a belief that a more structured approach that forced the players to be more accountable could improve the club. Just the fact the Leafs appear to be en route to becoming a far more disciplined team, with the same dumb penalties no longer excused over and over, is an enlightening change.
- At the moment, there is no fear Leaf fans will string Ferguson up for dealing away goalie prospect Tukka Rask for Andrew Raycroft.
Raycroft has been excellent so far, and while Rask may one day be a star, it could well be that the Bruins were a little hasty in writing off Raycroft and handing the goaltending reins to Tim Thomas and Hannu Toivonen. Most important, if Raycroft is as good as he seems to be, it will give Justin Pogge two full seasons in the AHL to develop at a proper pace.
- You can debate whether Pavel Kubina is worth $5 million a season. What is not debatable is that in the three games he has played, he has been no worse than the team's second best defenceman behind Tomas Kaberle and possibly its best.
- Bryan McCabe? Not even close to Kubina so far, which is why Leaf fans should be deathly afraid Kubina's injury picked up in the third period against Florida Monday night could be serious.
- Signing Mike Peca not only substantially increased the team's on-ice I.Q., it has added a layer of class and leadership to the team's dressing room that simply didn't exist before.
- Peca may not manage half the points Allison did last season. Still, it's already obvious he's twice the player.
In general, there's no question Ferguson is out of excuses and alibis. This is his team now run by his handpicked choice as head coach and it's pretty obvious he needs a playoff berth to keep his job.
He's running for re-hire on his record, and so far this season his chances of success have brightened considerably.