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Winds of Change

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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(TORONTO) - The Toronto Maple Leafs have fired general manager John Ferguson.

The team announced its decision through a press release. The Maple Leafs scheduled a 1 p.m. press conference Tuesday to introduce Cliff Fletcher as the interim GM.

Fletcher, who managed the Leafs from 1991 to 1997, stood out as the long-rumoured candidate to replace Ferguson whose job might have been saved had the Leafs garnered just one extra point last year and qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs. This season, the Leafs sit 14th in the Eastern Conference and six points out of eighth place.

Fan and media dissatisfaction with Ferguson increased with every loss even though his teams accrued a .559 points percentage with 145 wins, 110 losses, 10 ties, 13 overtime losses and 17 losses by shootout.

Among the moves most cited by Ferguson’s critics were the hefty free-agent signings of defenceman Bryan McCabe and Pavel Kubina and the five-year contract extended to free-agent forward Jason Blake who has struggled in his first year in Toronto. Trading future star Tuukka Rask for the inconsistent Andrew Raycroft has been, by all accounts, unfortunate.

But Ferguson has made some solid moves as well. The Leafs shifted their minor league team from the Maritimes to the Ricoh Coliseum. Prospects are now closer should they be called up.  Jiri Tlusty, drafted 13th overall in 2006 looks like a solid selection and is playing with the Leafs. So is defenceman Anton Stralman, a rookie logging major moments with the Maple Leafs. Ferguson found him 216th in the 2005 draft.

Vesa Toskala, acquired from San Jose for a first, second and fourth round draft choice might well prove himself worth it. Mark Bell, who arrived with Toskala, has been a bust.

The move caught the players by surprise.

“I just saw a lot of media here, I didn’t know what was going on,” said Alexei  Ponikarovsky. “It’s never fun when this happens. It’s our job to play hockey. It’s all we can do.”

“John drafted me, he was great to me,” said Tlusty. “Now he’s leaving and I feel sorry about it but that’s hockey.”
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