The Future and JFJ
is is the most critical Maple Leaf road trip of the season.
That is, until the next one.
The nature of the NHL standings is that when a team, any team, can reel off five or six wins in a row, suddenly they can vault upwards.
Phoenix has been doing it for two weeks. Tampa Bay, tonight's Leaf opponent, and Nashville are doing it right now.
The Leafs, of course, almost did it last year when, after being all but left for dead, they put on a last season spurt while riding the goaltending of J.S. Aubin and were actually part of long-shot playoff discussions.
That said, the Leafs go into their game with the Lightning in 11th place (21st overall) with the possibility of plummeting further if Pittsburgh and Washington can come up with victories.
The Leafs could wake up in 9th place in the Eastern Conference Wednesday morning.
Neither position, needless to say, is a playoff position, and given that the club is on an 82-point pace going into the Lightning game, a playoff berth is looking increasingly remote.
So what could that mean for the future of GM John Ferguson?
At the 22-game mark this season, you'll recall, Ferguson was moved from lame duck status to semi-lame duck status.
The geniuses upstairs at MLSE who weren't sure he was the guy in September suddenly realized he was the guy in October, and picked up his option for the 2007-08 season on the basis of a good start to this campaign.
But given that most believed Ferguson had to get this team into the playoffs to survive, where does he stand now if that doesn't happen?
Well, he could get canned, although he would argue injuries wrecked the Leaf season, which might be partially true.
But a likelier scenario is that he would retain his job going into next season, but without the multi-year extension he covets, putting him back into lame duck land.
He'd have a wobblier hold on the job than Tony Romo.
Moreover, there would be no year added to his contract next season, which would put him squarely on the firing line during the season and out of a job if the Leafs couldn't make it into the '08 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Hardly a warming scenario for Leaf fans, that change at the top of the hockey organization would only come after a third set of missed playoffs.
Then again, maybe the Leafs wipe up on this current trip against the Lightning, Panthers and Penguins, storm their way into the '07 post-season and by the summer JFJ is king of the world.
It could happen.
After all, who thought by Jan. 16 the Predators would have the most victories in the NHL?