Saturday, October 23, 2010

Top 10 Dumbest Moves of the JFJ Era

jfj mlse dumb stupid leafs
In honour of Jackass 3-D’s surprisingly warm reviews (7.5 on imdb, 67% on Rotten Tomatoes) and great opening weekend at the box-office ($50.4 million), I thought it would be appropriate to count down the dumbest stunts performed in Leafs history. Then I figured I could just as easily make a list of the ten dumbest moments in JFJ’s sordid tenure as Leafs’ GM. That’s not hard considering his most endearing feature is resembling Count Chocula.

Listing JFJ’s ten dumbest moments might be a little unfair considering he was really just a patsy for the Leafs’ inept ownership group. Allegedly, JFJ went to the board and asked permission to re-build the Leafs (either before or after the 2005-2006 season), but was rebuked. That’s the moment when he engaged in some of the most inept trades and signings anyone has seen since Mike Milbury attempted to murder the New York Islanders.

Plus, JFJ was woefully under qualified as a GM in the largest hockey market in the world and didn’t receive any help from disposed GM, and then current coach, Pat Quinn. According to Craig Button, who served under JFJ at the time, Ferguson was afraid to involve himself with anyone who could be seen as a threat to his power in the decision-making process. So he was dumb and didn't let anyone help him. Perfect.

Hiring a 36-year-old whose only experience in the NHL was a five-year stint as assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues isn’t the most intelligent decision. But that's not surprising considering MLSE is good at making money, not making savvy hockey decisions.

I’m sure Steve-o and Johnny Knoxville’s parents didn’t pay any attention to them as children, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t morons. Despite the mitigating factors surrounding JFJ’s tenure, he’s still an idiot.

Let me count the reasons why.

Honourable Mention: Trading for Ron Francis

At the 2004 trade deadline, JFJ traded a fourth round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes for Ron Francis to add to the Leafs’ depth heading into the playoffs. On the surface trading a fourth round pick for Ron Francis isn’t totally dumb, except Francis’ arrival meant relegating Matt Stajan to the press box, despite his pretty good rookie season on the fourth line (14 goals in 69 games, +7).

Francis somehow scored 10 points in 12 games, but was awful. I hated him. To me he always looked more like a coach than a player. I can’t figure out how he’s the fourth highest scorer of all-time.

Francis’ contributions were minimal, especially in the playoffs where he only added four meagre assists in 12 games. I don’t care if the deal didn’t cost the Leafs anything of value. I hated it then and I hate it now.

10. Drafting Jiri Tlusty

After narrowly missing the 2006 playoffs on the last day of the season, the Leafs had their highest draft position since they drafted Nik Antropov 10th overall in 1998. With the 13th overall selection, the Leafs picked Jiri Tlusty, who unfortunately would be best remembered for showing the world his penis on the internet.

The Leafs selected Nikolai Kulemin in the second round and Viktor Stalberg in the sixth round, so JFJ wasn’t just picking based on future pornographic potential. Also, this draft class was pretty underwhelming outside of the top-10, so JFJ can’t be totally condemned.

9. Re-signing Tie Domi

Rumour has it that JFJ didn’t want to re-sign Domi heading into the 2005-2006 season, but MSLE chairman Larry Tanenbaum, a friend of Domi’s, forced the deal.

This was a classic case of a player staying on for one season too long. The “NEW NHL” was too fast for Tie and he clearly struggled to keep up. He was a healthy scratch multiple times, which hadn’t occurred since the 1999 playoffs.

Domi didn’t even fight well that season. He was overmatched in most of his bouts and, not surprisingly, didn’t drop the gloves with his regular frequency (which essentially made him useless). Even worse, Domi was always ready to fight Chris Neil during the Battle of Ontario, except he was routinely whipped by the younger, scrappier Neil. That was hard to watch.

The Leafs bought out Domi in 2006.

Re-signing Domi was dumb because it made the fans turn on one of the most beloved Leafs of the late-90s/early-2000s.

8. Re-signing 39-year-old Ed Belfour

Ed Belfour finished an incredible season in 2003-2004 where he posted a 2.13 GAA, .918 SV%, and a whopping 10 shut-outs. But he was closing in on forty and was affected by multiple short-term injuries over the previous few seasons.

That didn’t matter to JFJ. Fergie signed Belfour to a three-year contract before the lockout. You know, because he must have been the only person in hockey who didn’t know the 2004-2005 season wasn't happening. That meant the Leafs were on the hook for Belfour’s salary even though he didn’t actually play any hockey for them. Not that it matters to MLSE because they print money.

What’s worse about this contract is that Belfour required back surgery. By the time the NHL re-started in 2005-2006, Belfour was 39-years-old, hadn’t played hockey in over a year, and was returning from major back surgery. He was abysmal that year, registering a 3.29 GAA and .892 SV%, which unfortunately wouldn’t be a low point for Toronto goaltending after the lockout.

7. Allison – O’Neill – Lindros

After the lockout JFJ decided to wait and gauge the free agent market before unveiling a new look Toronto team that let both Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk leave for Florida. The free agent market blew right past JFJ and all the notable free agents were already signed before he could even look up and wonder what happened.

Prior to the July 1st free agent period, JFJ traded a conditional draft pick for Jeff O’Neill, who once scored 40 goals for the Carolina Hurricanes. I was initially on-board with this move and I did like O’Neill on the Leafs (or at least I wanted to like him and always rooted for him in the same way I always rooted for Mikael Renberg). However, O’Neill never got himself right in Toronto and was eventually a healthy scratch during the later part of the season. He averaged 40 points over two seasons, but was very disappointing.

JFJ also bolstered the Leafs line-up by signing Jason Allison and Eric Lindros. Allison hadn’t played hockey in over two years and was literally the slowest hockey player I have ever seen in the NHL. He miraculously scored 60 points in 66 games, but that is truly mind-boggling because he was absolutely terrible.

Lindros was a bit of a sad case. He joined the Leafs five years after he should have (he tried to force a trade to Toronto in 2000, but Bobby Clarke was spiteful and sent him to the Rangers after letting him sit out a season) and really, truly wanted to play for the Leafs. Unfortunately, injuries curbed his effectiveness and he never made an impact in Toronto.

JFJ should have marketed these deals to Leaf fans by saying, “Hey, we’d be a powerhouse five years ago!”

6. Re-signing Darcy Tucker

Tucker pulled a great con job on JFJ by re-inventing himself as a scorer after the lockout. Tucker would position himself at the side of the goal and receive beautiful passes from Tomas Kaberle which only required a shot into an open net. He did this 52 times over two seasons.

JFJ paid Tucker as if he were a scorer and not a third-line checker. He signed Tucker to a 4-year (4!!!!), $12 million contract and even gave Tucker a NTC as a kicker (more on that later). In the first year of the deal it was clear that Tucker’s body was breaking down and the contract was a horrible idea.

Cliff Fletcher eventually bought out Tucker’s contract in 2008, which means Tucker will still cost the Leafs $1 million in cap space for the next three seasons (until 2013-2014).

5. Trading for and then signing Vesa Toskala

In 2007, for the second straight year the Leafs made a deal for a goalie at the NHL Entry Draft. This time the Leafs gave up their 13th overall first-round pick (Lars Eller) and a fourth-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell.

JFJ then immediately signs Toskala to a two-year extension worth $4 million per season, without even seeing him play a game in Toronto.

Toskala was an improvement over Andrew Raycroft, except that wasn’t very hard considering Raycroft was mediocre during his miraculous 37 win season in 2006-2007.

Toskala then let his GAA rise above 3.00 and his SV% fall below .900 the following season, before undergoing surgery intended to get himself healthy for 2009-2010. It didn’t and Toskala played a large role in handing the Bruins the second overall pick in the 2010 Entry Draft.

What makes this even worse is that the Phoenix Coyotes picked last year's Vezina Trophy finalist, Ilya Bryzgalov, off waivers from the Ducks mid-way through Toskala's first season in Toronto. In hindsight, a first and a fourth for Bryz seems like the better investment.

4. Signing Jason Blake

In the 2007 off-season, JFJ signs Jason Blake, who was coming off a 40-goal season, to a five-year, $20 million deal. The intention was to give Mats Sundin his first legitimate winger since Alexander Mogilny and Gary Roberts. Unfortunately, this was really just equivalent to fixing the Titanic with a band-aid.

Leaf fans did a major spin job with this signing. “He scored 40 goals for the Islanders, dude. Think of what he’ll do with Mats Sundin!” Everyone casually ignored the fact the Blake never scored more than 30 goals before his surprising 40 goal season.

In all fairness, doctors diagnosed Blake with cancer during his first season with the Leafs and he continued to play, albeit poorly. He even registered a pretty good second year when he scored 25 goals and 38 assists (the second highest total of his career).

Burke saved the Leafs of this contractual anchor by packaging both Blake and Toskala and sending them to the Ducks for J.S. Giguere.

3. Re-signing Bryan McCabe

I liked Bryan McCabe. I was one of his few supporters, even during the dark periods of his Leafs career. However, even I knew re-signing him was a horrible idea.

McCabe registered one of the greatest offensive seasons by a Leafs defenceman in 2005-2006 when he scored 19 goals and added 49 assists for an astounding 68 points. The Leafs’ power-play was deadly with Kaberle feeding McCabe the puck and McCabe cashed in hard.

JFJ signed McCabe to a ridiculous 5-year deal worth an obscene $5.75 million per season, which was even more surprising considering Kaberle, the superior defenceman, signed for $4.25 million per season. It took McCabe weeks to actually sign the papers, which gave everyone hope that his wife was forcing him to play for the Islanders (where she’s originally from), but, alas, McCabe eventually signed and added to the Leafs’ mounting cap problems.

Cliff Fletcher fixed this mistake, too. He convinced McCabe to waive his NTC (which you all should thank Bryan for doing) and sent his talents to South Beach.

2. NTCs

Everyone had them. JFJ gave these things out like they were nothing. Mats Sundin, Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, and Darcy Tucker wore these babies around their necks like Big Brother’s golden power of veto.

When JFJ was finally disposed of, Cliff Fletcher rolled into town promising heads would roll and the Leafs would be vastly different by the beginning of next season. However, the five NTC-havin’ players held a meeting in Muskoka to decide if any of them would actually waive their contractual rights. None did.

This was a major blow to the Leafs’ rebuilding efforts considering the Flyers reportedly (not sure I truly believe this) offered Jeff Carter and a first-round pick for Kaberle at the trade deadline. Any potential Sundin deal would have seen the Leafs recoup prospects as well. Trading McCabe, Kubina, and Tucker would have likely registered nothing more than cap space. Getting rid of these five players at the deadline would have been huge.

This set the Leafs back years.

1. Keeping Justin Pogge/Trading Tuukka Rask

This was the ultimate blunder. A total, complete fuck up.

After the Leafs missed the 2006 playoffs on the last day of the season and Ed Belfour proved incapable of goaltending, JFJ realized he needed to trade for a goalie.

Thankfully, the Leafs had two top goalie prospects in their system. Justin Pogge started in net for a dominant Canadian world juniors team, while Tuukka Rask, a former first-round pick, took home goalie of the tournament honours. JFJ decided to keep the goalie playing behind the best team, rather than the first-round pick judged as the best goalie in the tournament.

JFJ traded Rask to the Bruins for former Rookie of the Year winner Andrew Raycroft. JFJ also immediately signed Raycroft to a three-year deal without allowing him to play a single game for the Leafs. Thankfully, the deal was only worth $1.5 million a season, but that’s little consolation.

Rask is now one of the best goalies in the league (although it looks like Tim Thomas might take back the Bruins’ starting job) and not only did the Leafs discard Raycroft, but they also traded for another goalie just one year later.

Essentially, the Leafs traded Tuukka Rask, a first-round pick (Lars Eller), and a fourth-round pick for Andrew Raycroft and Vesa Toskala.

Does it make sense why everyone in Leafs Nation loves Brian Burke so much?


Geoff said...

It frightens me that you obviously had well over 10 points if you`re naming an honourable mention. JFJ always just wanted to be loved. The Rask and Pogge situation epitomizes that, Rask was the better goalie, Pogge`s World Juniors win made him the more popular goalie in Toronto, JFJ did his thang.

Anonymous said...

As much as I've always wanted to put JFJ on a boat in the middle of the ocean and sink it for the boneheaded deals he made, I think the Leafs' upper crust is largely to blame.

Think about it: sign a relatively inexperienced person to a position they've never held before and then give them carte-blanche? Yeah, JFJ was horrible for the Leafs but it's really upper management that dropped the ball there.

Good article. I love reading your blog.

Matt Horner said...


I lay most of the blame on the upper management as well. It's as if two parents let their toddler drive a monster truck and he goes out and destroys everything. You don't blame the baby, he didn't know any better. You blame the parents. Of course we're assuming this is a super developed baby with the ability to drive... I don't think JFJ had any abilities.

Matt Horner said...

I should note that one of JFJ's good qualities was the he was a master of the waiver wire. Everyone he picked up here turned into a third-line superstar.

It started with Chad Kilger in March, 2004 (who according to wikipedia works as a firefighter in Cornwall now, but his hiring drew controversy because his Dad is the mayor...scandal). Then he picked up Boyd Devereaux in October 2006. And finally, he turned Dom Moore into a third-line superstar eventually worth a second round pick!

JFJ couldn't handle the major deals, but maybe he could have been decent as an assistant to the assistant GM, just scouring the league for scraps.

My Poor Friend Me said...

I'd say the dumbest thing JFJ did with regards to McCabe is not trading at the deadline before his contract expired. He could have fetched a very nice return.

Mac said...

I think the Yanic Perreault trade was a more boneheaded move than the Francis acquisition. With Francis, we knew we would be getting a veteran scoring centre to boost our second line going into the playoffs. I was never convinced that Perreault was 'that guy' who would make the Leafs a surefire playoff team like JFJ tried to convince Leafs Nation as such. Sure he had faceoff skills, but otherwise, not much else other than being the lone rep from a crappy Coyotes team at the all-star game that season. Oh, and the Leafs still didn't make the playoffs.

Love your blog BTW, keep it up.

Matt Horner said...

Thanks, Mac.

In addition to the reasons you said, the Perreault deal was dumb because it seemed like the only person in the world who didn't think the Leafs should re-build was JFJ (or, more likely, MLSE). I remember being so mad when instead of getting younger and faster the Leafs got older and slower by picking up this over-the-hill bum.

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