by Mike Zeisberger
Sept. 18, 2003
STOCKHOLM - Instead of cutting him some slack, some critics already are fitting John Ferguson for a noose.
Can't we at least wait to condemn the guy until, say, his team actually has played a game that means something?
Being ripped comes with the territory. Even I sheepishly admit having wielded a poison pen now and then.
But Ferguson deserves a little time to show what he can - or can not - do as the incoming general manager of the Maple Leafs.
In his first three weeks in office, he finalized the farewell of Robert Svehla, a soap opera that dragged out far too long. We wish Svehla the best in his native Slovakia, but, in the end, he should have signed his retirement papers earlier in the summer when he knew he was not coming back instead of holding the Leafs hostage.
A handful of days later Ferguson inked Whitby native Joe Nieuwendyk to a contract. The popular Nieuwendyk is as valuable an addition inside the dressing room as he is out on the ice and should pay instant dividends for the Leafs.
Nevertheless, the jury remains out on Ferguson, and so it should. Rome wasn't built in a day, and a 37-year Stanley Cup drought won't be brought to an end overnight.
The real litmus test remains the leaky defence of this aging team.
With the likes of Nieuwendyk, Owen Nolan, Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts, Nik Antropov and Alex Mogilny up front, this is the most talented group of forwards to wear the blue and white in decades. But if the blue line holes can't be plugged, it may be another early post-season exit for the Buds.
Just watch the vultures circle over Ferguson should that happen.
IRISH EYES ARE SMILING
It was reported Pat Quinn was supposed to be bitter at being usurped from the GM's post in favour of Ferguson, who beat out Quinn's buddies Steve Tambellini and Bob Nicholson.
At least that's what many reports said, right?
We haven't seen it.
In fact Quinn has seemed as jovial and relaxed as he's been in years. It's almost as if he's glad the shackles of the GM's post have been removed.
That could change, of course. Fourteen of the team's first 21 regular-season games come on the road, and a slow start certainly will sour Quinn's mood.
Curtis Joseph loves the ponies and owns interests in a number of thoroughbreds.
And while Cujo no longer plays in Toronto anymore, his savvy horse sense obviously rubbed off on his buddy Mats Sundin.
Sundin has a partial ownership in a standardbred namedRevolution. If you're in to the trotters, you may have heard of this horse. After all, he won the prestigious Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk Sept. 13.
Even though Sundin was inSweden for training camp at the time, he was euphoric with the victory.
"I didn't see it, but I found out about it (the next) morning,"Sundin said."That's great. He won a big race in Sweden for four-year-olds last year.
"Trotting is huge over here."
Two days does not a training camp make.
Yet in his brief two-day stint with the Leafs, Alexander Steen raised a lot of eyebrows among hockey experts.
"This kid's going to be a good one,"an NHL scout said. "His foundation of raw skill is very impressive."
Because he remains unsigned, the Leafs' 2002 first-round pick had to be returned to his Swedish club team after just a couple of workouts with Toronto. Even so, he left a very valuable impression.