October 27, 2006

Let's Get This Party Started - Oct 4th, 2006

Sports and The City has officially begun! Thank you for joining me on the journey. I was thinking of the best way to commemorate the "grand opening" of the website, and I must say I came up with a pretty good idea - open letters to the General Managers of the Leafs, Jays and Raptors. I've got a lot to say to each of them. Since the NHL's regular season opens up tomorrow with another installment of the Battle of Ontario - it wasn't much of a battle last year eh?- I thought I'd start with good old John Ferguson Jr. of the Maple Leafs. So without further adieu, lets get this party started!

Dear John,

It’s late Tuesday night as I write you this letter. You must be tossing and turning in your bed. A new season full of new expectations gets under way tomorrow night. You must be nervous. I’m nervous for you. This is finally YOUR team, with YOUR coach and YOUR players. It’s all about you now John - and you’re going in with no contract after this year. I haven’t even heard a whisper about an extension. That’s rough. You scared? Yeah, if I were you, I’d definitely be scared. You know what happens if the team stumbles out of the gate, right? You’re gone. Fired. See ya! And we’re playing Ottawa four out of the first twelve games. Someone seriously needs to slap the schedule maker. But back to my point, your neck is definitely on the line. Sorry, I know, I’m stating the obvious.

John, I’m not going to hide the way I feel anymore. I’ve got to be honest with you. It’s the least I can do, and I think you deserve it. I’m worried. I’m scared. I need to know that you’re committed to this relationship. I need to know that we both want the same things. You know I’ll never leave you, and sometimes, I feel like you take advantage of that. We missed the playoffs last year John. Not one measly round. I know you’re trying your best, and I know a relationship like this will have its ups and downs, but you said you would never hurt me intentionally. Missing the playoffs hurt me John. It hurt me bad. The Leafs had been a serious Cup contender since 1998, until last year. I need to know that you’re doing all that you can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

I know you’re still relatively new as a General Manager. But John, that excuse can only fly for so long. Last season, you signed Jason Allison, Eric Lindros and Alex Khavanov. And you gave Belfour and Domi new contracts too. John, what the HELL were you thinking? You know what, I’m not going to go back into the past. There’s no point. I just need you to learn from your mistakes, and you’re not showing me that you are John.

You obviously figured out that defense and goaltending are our biggest problems - congratulations, that certainly must have been difficult. I was optimistic at first about the signings of Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina, but are they really the answers? Gill’s a beast, and I love his physical play, but he’s exactly the antithesis of the “new NHL”. I think if he and Jason Allison were to race, I’d probably fall asleep. Or stab myself with a pen. And $5 million for Kubina!? That’s Tomas Kaberle money John, and Kubina is no Kaberle. I know, I know, you have to overpay in free agency. But I just feel like giving guys like Brendan Bell, Jay Harrison, Staffan Kronwall and Ian White a shot at permanent NHL jobs was the better way to go. These guys are young and they’ve got speed, something both Kubina and Gill lack. And a three year contract for Gill? You’re killing me John.

Wait a second – I’ve got an idea. A charity race between Jason Allison and Hal Gill, sort of like the one between Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson years ago, when Johnson pulled up lame. It would be a ratings bonanza! I’m sure MLSE would be up for it - anything to make an extra dollar.

Sorry. I lost my train of thought. John, I’m not going to sit here and say that everything you’ve done has been completely idiotic. Thank God you bought out Belfour and Domi’s contracts. And I’m liking Paul Maurice. It was definitely time for a fresh, new approach for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maurice is the perfect man for the job and I hope he whips the Leafs into shape. And I’ll be honest with you John, all those years that Mike Peca was playing for Buffalo, and Long Island, I secretly longed for him to be in the blue and white. You can’t go wrong adding a Peca to your lineup. I know he’ll teach the young forwards how to play more responsibly.

But you’re not off the hook just yet John. Raycroft? This is your answer to our goaltending problems? Granted, it won’t take much to be better than Belfour, but Raycroft’s numbers from last year are frightening. I’m talking Borat in his neon green one-piece swimsuit frightening. And why the heck did you sign him to a contract extension?!? He’s coming off the worst season EVER and you reward him with job and financial security? Good thinking. I wish I had a boss like you. Maybe I’d be a millionaire then too. Actually, I wish I just had a job, period. Anyways, I know you’ll say Raycroft's contract is a good move because he’s locked up for the next three years at a relatively cheap price, but what if he bombs? He’s likely to bomb, John. He had one good season. And that was before the game drastically changed. I’m really worried about him John. The Leafs need strong goaltending in order to be successful. It’s not a black and white issue. You better pray that Raycroft can step up, otherwise you’re out of a job by mid-November, you heard it hear first.

And why the hell was Raycroft handed the number one job in training camp? Who made this guy a number one goalie? He certainly wasn’t one last year. John, I don’t know if you’re aware of this but J.S. Aubin HAS NEVER LOST A GAME IN REGULATION TIME since he joined the Leafs. Not one. Yet he was automatically designated as a backup with Mikael Tellqvist. And for the love of God John, trade Tellqvist. He’s obviously not the future goaltender this team was looking for. Everyone knows Justin Pogge is the next big thing in net for the Leafs, so Tellqvist is absolutely useless to us now. Do it for him. Don’t keep three goalies with the big club - trade him now. If you need help, talk to Bryan Colangelo. He got an actual basketball player for Rafael Araujo. Imagine that.

And John, all I ask is that you listen sometimes. I begged and pleaded for you to sign Anson Carter. He was exactly what this team needed – a scoring winger. He wasn’t too old, he was coming off a career year and he was only looking for a one year deal. He’s from Toronto and even said he would like to play for the Leafs. Do you need someone to beat you over the head with a lead pipe or something? I’ll gladly do it. Two years ago, you could have had Carter, and now you let him pass us by again. I’m not sure I can forgive you for the same mistake twice John. Who is going to score goals for us now? The offense is incredibly weak. Mats can’t do everything.

I’m at my wits end John. I’m not sure this edition of the Leafs will be any more successful than last year’s. I’m sure we’ll be a little quicker, and God knows that’s a good thing, but I just don’t think we are where we need to be.

And John, it’s time to give up on Nik Antropov. I came into training camp willing to give him one last shot, but he injured himself again, and I’ve had it. He just can’t stay healthy. It’s different if someone lines him up and knocks him out, but he continually injures himself. You’re lucky. You didn’t draft him, so I can’t blame you for him. But trade him. Trade Antropov and Tellqvist for a freaking scout. Or a stationary bike. Yeah, a stationary bike. And then give that bike to Jeff O’Neill and tell him not to get off it until he’s in shape.

I’m worried and frustrated John. You need to fix this. In the meantime, don’t tell me it’s all going to be okay. Actions speak louder than words. Good luck John…