John Ferguson Jr.’s Worst Moves as Maple Leafs GM

Perhaps the most criticized general manager in recent years for the the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs organization, John Ferguson Jr. certainly made some questionable calls during his tenure as the Leafs GM.

Ferguson took over the GM duties from Pat Quinn (who remained as the team’s head coach) on August 29, 2003 at the young age of 36. While he remained with the club until January 2008, he never really lived up to the abilities of his predecessor.

Instead, JFJ found a way to break the faith of Leafs Nation. And with that, some believe he single-handedly changed the fate of the Toronto franchise during the mid- to late-2000s – a fate they have yet to redefine.

With that, here’s a look at some of the most questionable moves made under Ferguson’s tenure.

6. Signed Michael Peca to a 1-year deal

On July 18, 2006, the Maple Leafs signed veteran forward Michael Peca to a one-year contract worth $2.5-million dollars. Now, keep in mind Peca was never any kind of sniper or offensive thrill, but he did reach the 50-point plateau in two seasons with the Buffalo Sabres.

For whatever reason, Ferguson seemed to believe that Peca still had the shutdown game he play with throughout the earlier years of his career. But being in his 12th NHL season, Peca was on the decline and handing him over $2-million is certainly not a move Ferguson would consider doing again.

However, the deal was made and Peca donned the Leafs crest for 35 games in 2006-07 recording 15 points (4g-11a) in the process. For those wondering, that’s just over $133,000 per point during his Maple Leafs tenure.

5. Traded Maxim Kondratiev, Jarkko Immonen, a 2004 1st-round pick (Kris Chucko) and a 2005 2nd-round pick (Michael Sauer) to New York for Brian Leetch

Remember how great it was for Toronto fans to see Brian Leetch step out onto the ice in Maple Leafs’ blue and white? At first glance, this Ferguson move doesn’t seem all that bad. Two prospects and a couple of picks that wouldn’t really turn into anything for one of the game’s best defensemen at the time?

But here are a few things to consider. While Calgary would eventually choose Kris Chucko with the former Leafs pick at 24th overall, here’s a few players the blue and white would’ve had a chance at had they held onto their pick. Cory Schneider was taken 26th overall. Carl Soderberg went to St. Louis at 49th. Dubinsky and Goligoski went to the Rangers and Penguins respectively at 60 and 61. Boston grabbed David Krejci late in the second round with the 63rd pick. Even Pekka Rinne went to Nashville in the eighth round – 258th overall.

If that isn’t enough to get you thinking about how bad this trade ended up being, here’s a look at some of the players the Leafs could’ve taken with their 2005 2nd-round pick – which New York used to draft Sauer. Ondrej Pavelec. Paul Stastny. Kris Letang. Jonathan Quick who went 72nd overall. How about Keith Yandle at 105th or Niklas Hjalmarsson at 108th?

Jonathan Quick, Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL, Los Angeles Kings
Jonathan Quick could’ve been the Maple Leafs’ 2nd-round pick in 2005 had they held onto it. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

With that in mind, Leetch went on to play 15 games with the Maple Leafs recording 15 points (2g-13a) while wearing a Toronto jersey. Sure, he was a big grab, but one who was at the end of his illustrious career.

4. Fired Pat Quinn

Starting in 1998, the late Pat Quinn took over behind the bench for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs improved significantly under the experienced Quinn qualifying for the playoffs in six straight seasons.

In seven seasons with the Leafs, Quinn led the team to a record of 300-196-52-26 in 574 games – a .591 winning percentage. While he never took the Leafs further than the Conference Finals, he did bring the Leafs and their fans a lot of extra hockey during the spring seasons he was part of the blue and white.

What makes it so much more questionable is that Quinn finished his career with 684 regular season wins – leaving him sixth on the NHL’s all-time list. In his final season before he was fired, he led the Leafs to a 41-33-8 record – narrowly missing the playoffs with 90 points.

Rumours flew regarding the reasons for his firing – with speculation that Quinn and Ferguson weren’t seeing eye to eye. But it says something when players like Mats Sundin and Darcy Tucker publicly support their former coach prior to his release from the team. But Quinn was fired regardless and Leafs have made the playoffs just one time since 2003-04 when the Olympic gold medalist led them to the postseason.

3. Signed Jason Blake to a 5-year deal

After a 40-goal and 69-point season in 2006-07 with the New York Islanders, it didn’t take the Maple Leafs and Ferguson long to sign free agent forward Jason Blake to a five-year contract worth $20-million.

Now, Blake did have productive years with the Leafs recording 52 points (15g-37a) in 2007-08 followed by 63 points (25g-38a) in 2008-09. But the small forward never reached that 40-goal plateau in his time with the team. In fact, he never reached the 30-goal mark in the two and a half seasons he spent in blue and white.

However, his tenure with the Leafs wasn’t completely unsuccessful. In 216 regular season games, he recorded 141 points (50g-91a) – averaging 0.65 points per game. Are those kinds of numbers worth $4-million a year?

Following a disappoint start to 2009-10, where he had just 26 points (10g-16a) in 56 games, the Leafs and general manager Brian Burke traded the former Bill Masterton trophy winner to Anaheim along with Vesa Toskala for Jean-Sebastien Gigure.

2. Traded a 2007 1st-round pick (Lars Eller), a 2007 2nd-round pick (Aaron Palushaj) and a 2009 4th-round pick (Craig Smith) to San Jose for Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell

On June 22, 2007, the Maple Leafs’ GM made a big deal with the San Jose Sharks – or at least it looked like one from a Leafs standpoint. Ferguson moved two picks in the 2007 draft (a 1st-round and a 2nd-round pick) and a 4th-round pick in 2009 in exchange for goalie Vesa Toskala and forward Mark Bell.

Toskala was coming off two strong seasons platooning with the Sharks where he put up a 49-17-5 record in 75 games. Coming to Toronto, he was pegged as the number one playing in 119 games in his first two seasons with the Leafs. In his two and half seasons with the Leafs, his record was 62-54-20. He had a goals against over 3.00 and a sub-.900 save percentage.

Bell, played in just 35 games for the Leafs putting up 10 points (4g-6a) to go along with 60 penalty minutes. Accompanying him, were his off-ice legal issues that the dealt with in the offseason.

So what exactly did the Leafs give up? Well, St. Louis would eventually use Toronto’s 2007 1st-round pick to select Lars Eller 13th overall (ahead of guys like Kevin Shattenkirk, Max Pacioretty, David Perron and Brendan Smith to name a few). St. Louis also got the Leafs 2nd-round pick from the Sharks and took Aaron Palushaj with the 44th overall pick in 2007.

Tuukka Rask, Maple Leafs, NHL, Boston Bruins
The Maple Leafs and John Ferguson Jr. let one get away when they traded Rask to Boston. (Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

San Jose also moved the Leafs 4th-round pick in 2009 to Nashville, where the Predators took Craig Smith – a guy who’s put up some solid numbers so far in his career.

But what could the Leafs have had with these three picks had they held onto them? In 2007, they would’ve had the opportunity to draft P.K. Subban who went in the second round and 43rd overall. They could’ve scored Wayne Simmonds who went with the 61st overall pick. Justin Falk, Alec Martinez, Jaime Benn could all be Leafs. All of them were taken after their first and second round picks in 2007.

In 2009, they missed out on Sami Vatanen, Anders Lee, and Marcus Foligno among others. Sit back and imagine some of those names in blue and white.

1. Traded Tuukka Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft

Finally, easily one of the most memorable trades in recent years, Ferguson moved Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Andrew Raycroft. Raycroft was coming off a disappointing season with the Bruins, but had just won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year the previous year when he won 29 of his 57 games with a 2.05 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.

The Leafs also had Justin Pogge coming off a great World Junior Championship where he took Canada to a gold medal. He went undefeated in six games giving up just six goals and recording three shutouts in the process. So surely he was the future for the Maple Leafs organization.

Pogge played just seven games for the Maple Leafs – his only seven games in the NHL – and recorded just one win. He allowed 27 goals in those seven games. Raycroft would play four more seasons after his 91 games in a Leafs uniform before leaving the NHL.

Rask? He’s gone on to win 136 regular season games, record 26 shutouts and maintain a career goals against average of 2.16. If that isn’t enough, his Bruins he’s played 47 playoff games with a record of 28-19-5 where he has a save percentage of .930 and a 2.11 goals against average. Oh, and he won the Vezina trophy in 2014 along with a Stanley Cup in 2011.

Ferguson’s always been a good hockey scout – he has the eye for talent when it comes to the younger players. But as the general manager – the man behind the decisions – his history in the role doesn’t exactly compliment his abilities as a hockey mind. While Toronto fans remember him for these moves – and possibly others – JFJ has remained a vital part of both the Sharks and Bruins organizations since his departure from Toronto.

For more, follow Andrew on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes or his THW column at @Tape2TapeTHW.