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Ferguson Closes out the Season

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Mike Ulmer has worked for seven news organizations including the National Post  and, most recently, the Toronto Sun. Mike has written about the Leafs for 10 years and wrote Captains, a book about the club's greatest leaders.

Toronto -- Two days removed from a shocking, last-second exit from the playoff chase, Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson had a two-pronged message, yesterday.

He is in this for the long haul and things will get better.

"There is a good side, although we are so close to the disappointment on Sunday that it's hard to see," Ferguson said. "I understand."

The Maple Leafs announced at mid-season they were exercising the option they held on Ferguson for next season but the GM has been under fire for two consecutive seasons out of the playoffs.

"This isn't about me. It's about the organization and it's direction," Ferguson said when asked about his status. "But let me say this: I intend to be here a long time and operate in that fashion."

Last off-season, Ferguson fired longtime coach Pat Quinn, signed incumbent defenceman Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle and landed rearguards Hal Gill and Pavel Kubina as well as forward Mike Peca through the free agent market. He also traded for Boston goalie Andrew Raycroft and installed longtime Carolina coach Paul Maurice behind the bench.

The Maple Leafs improved all right, everywhere except the standings. A host of young players, Carlo Colaiacovo, Matt Stajan, Ian White and Kyle Wellwood took substantial steps forward. The Leafs are a year or two removed from substantial help from a host of young players and while they showed a grievous inability to keep the puck out of the net, the Leafs, despite their injuries, were game just about every night.

"We missed the playoff by a point and we were that close to talking about the character, the leadership, the depth, so many things that stood us in such good stead this year and kept us in the playoff race," he said.

So what's next?

More change. Ferguson re-affirmed Maurice's opinion that changes of some substance are warranted.

Ferguson wanted to fix the goals against.

"That's team defence, two-way-play and goaltending," he said.

Like Maurice, Ferguson thought Raycroft was good, but not good enough.

"We really like the growth he made in playing 72 games and winning 37 of them," he said. "Obviously, he needs to be better in terms of consistency through the year."

"We'd like to see if we can upgrade that position through improvement of Andrew," Ferguson said later but he anticipates a large contingent of available free agent goalies.

Ferguson saw a swelling of the salary cap and predicted the Leafs would be targeting help for the club's top two lines.

"We know it's going up and we feel good about our positioning and what we can do with our available funds."

Ferguson has had talks with star centre Mats Sundin and his representation. Sundin expressed a strong desire to remain a Leaf on Monday. Ferguson expected Sundin would remain.

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