Thursday, June 12, 2008

Leafs Stick With Fletcher ... For Now

Ever since the Toronto Maple Leafs fired GM John Ferguson Jr they have been looking for his replacement. They temporarily installed 72 year old Cliff Fletcher, a former GM of the team, in the general manager position until they found their replacement. It has become clear that the Toronto Maple Leaf brass does not know how to find a general manager. They don't know where to look for a new GM. This is a common problem when the businessmen who run a hockey team have to find a hockey man.

The Toronto solution has been to attempt to poach a successful general manager from another team. Their list of candidates include Brian Burke of Anaheim, Lou Lamoreillo of New Jersey, Ken Holland of Detroit, Doug Risebrough of Minnesota, Doug Wilson of San Jose, Darcy Regier of Buffalo, David Poile of Nashville, Jim Rutherford of Carolina and Jim Nill the assistant GM of Detroit. The problem is all of them have jobs. They all appear happy with their jobs. They have built successful teams and may not want to start anew in a different city.

So what is Toronto to do? They have announced Cliff Fletcher will stay on a GM for this season. At least he probably will. Unless somebody on this list becomes available.

The problem with this plan is Toronto needs the continuity of a good hockey man being in charge in the long term. Fletcher will make some changes and they may not be changes that are liked by the new GM. Fletcher has already fired coach Paul Maurice and hired coach Ron Wilson (who San Jose should never have fired). It's a good move for the Leafs, but it potentially leads to some awkward situations. Imagine that Doug Wilson, the GM who fired Ron Wilson, becomes available and becomes the new Leaf GM.

Toronto does have Cliff Fletcher and Fletcher is a good GM. Fletcher is not a longterm solution. He will be 73 before next season and won't stay around for too long. Nevertheless, he should be the solution. Fletcher is a hockey man. Richard Peddie and Gord Kirke, the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment officials who are looking for the next GM are not. Cliff Fletcher can find an assistant GM that he is comfortable to work with. Somebody who would work from the same game plan Fletcher has. When Fletcher is ready to step aside, the new GM would take over. It solves the disjointed process of hiring somebody brand new with different ideas. It solves the problem that Richard Peddie doesn't know any good GMs or how to find them. It would be the best solution for the Leafs.

The Leafs are searching for a new general manager who is already a successful general manager of an NHL team. If I was a successful general manager of an NHL team, I would not be too willing to jump ship to join the dysfunctional Toronto maple Leaf organization. I think most (if not all) the people on their list agree with me. They should have Cliff Fletcher training the new GM of tomorrow while rebuilding the club. However, the sensible path is often not the path the Leafs have chosen to follow.

Here is the TSN story on the Leafs situation.

The Toronto solution has been to attempt to poach a successful general manager from another team.

What is wrong with this strategy? The best GMs are usually employed so why not try to get one of the best. This strategy happens in every single business in the world. If a big corporation is looking for a new President and CEO they don't normally look through the ranks of the unemployed. Now, there may be very good GMs available now but are those available GMs really among the elite?

The problem with this plan is Toronto needs the continuity of a good hockey man being in charge in the long term.

Yes, which is why it is better to wait and get the right candidate than to just hire whoever might be available now. Now maybe they won't get one of the elite GMs next summer but there are a number of them coming off contracts so the possibility is greater that they will get an elite GM next summer than they will now, since they seemingly have concluded that non are available now. Fletcher is a more than capable GM to man the fort until they find the right GM.

It seems like everyone favourite past time to call the Leafs a dysfunctional organization, but what it has done the past couple of years is significantly not dysfunctional. It found a way to get an elite level GM for the Toronto Raptors and given him complete control. It let go a clearly failing General Manager in John Ferguson Jr. and brought in one of the most experiences hockey men in the business to man the fort until they found the right long term guy for the job and instead of making a rush hiring by hiring whoever might be available now, they decided to wait it out in hopes of getting an elite level general manager. To me, that is just smart managing and some long term thinking that many have accused the Leafs of not having in the past.

Maybe those other 'wish list' general managers will have no interest in the Leafs job but I suspect some of them will and they now know that the Leafs job is possibly available to them next summer and they may not rush to sign a new contract extension. In my mind, the Leafs are doing everything right for the long term.

They should have Cliff Fletcher training the new GM of tomorrow while rebuilding the club.

They have made it clear that they have no intention of having someone learn on the job. They want a experienced and proven GM which is the right thing to do.
The Leafs already HAVE a plan, everyone knows that the Leafs are just waiting a year until Brian Burke's contract is up in Anaheim, after which time he will join his best buddy Wilson in TO....providing nothing goes WRONG. (As a Habs fan, I can only hope it does :D )
It isnt clear that getting a big name GM is a solution. Sometimes teams do this and get Glen Sather in the Rangers or worse Neil Smith with the Islanders.

Look at the list of candidates. Nine names. Only three had experience as GM before being hired with their cuurent team. Brian Burke, David Poile and Doug Risebrough (and Risebrough in Calgary could not be considered a success). In a way being GM is like being a player. You go through a period that is your prime and then you and less successful. GMs require intelligence to do their job instead of physical skills so they peak later in life, but they do peak. Best case, this strategy probably gets a GM on the downside of his career. Worst case, it gets nobody at all since the best candidates are all happily employed and there is nothing attractive about the Leaf situation that they have not already built where they already are. It also leads to the disjointed rebuild where Fletcher goes one way and then the new guy goes another way making the rebuild longer.

Toronto cannot know that next summer Brian Burke or anyone else is going to be available. To even discuss that right now is tampering. I think there is a very gooid chance Toronto winds up with somebody entirely different from this list next summer. Somebody they could have had this summer. Next summer they decided they could not wait any longer and made their move.

At the same time there exist good young GMs out there that Toronto ignores because they are unable to identify them. Some of the good new guys will go on to have as much successs or more than the people Toronto wants.

You dont get anywhere by waiting forever to get your "home run" GM hiring and after you hire him, he may not turn out any better than the guy you could have had from day one.
"At the same time there exist good young GMs out there that Toronto ignores because they are unable to identify them."

No, they are choosing to seek experience over hope. The Leafs have said flat out that they aren't going the JFJ (who was a highly respected young hockey mind when he was hired) route anymore. They want an experienced GM that is not only experienced in the job of GM but is experienced in handling the media. This is why they brought in Cliff Fletcher. This is why they brought in Ron Wilson.

You can argue that they won't get anyone better next year than they will this year, but you can't argue that they are dysfunctional because they want to wait for the right guy who fits their search criteria.

But I find it funny that one of your arguments is that they are likely to find a GM on the downside of their career and also say that of the people on the list few had experience before their current jobs.

Is Ken Holland done as a GM at age 52? Is Darcy Regier done at age 51? Is Jim Nill done at 50? Is Doug Wilson done at 51? Is Brian Burke done at 53? David Poile must be way over the hull at age 58. To me, that would be the prime of their careers and many GMs have had success until their late 60's (see Scotty Bowman).

"Toronto cannot know that next summer Brian Burke or anyone else is going to be available. To even discuss that right now is tampering."

Toronto knows that Burke's contract expires June 1st, 2009. That is a well known fact. They cannot go out and say "we will go after Brian Burke next summer" but they are fully within their rights to say "we want an experienced, proven GM and are willing to wait until next summer to get that GM." Now, any experience proven GM who might be at all interested in the Toronto position may very well choose to wait until they can explore the Toronto opportunity before they sign a new contract anywhere else. There is no tampering so long as you don't name names.

There are a lot of reasons to not want to take a Leaf GM job, but it could also be the dream job for many GMs. Any GM that can bring success to Toronto would be a hero forever and many GMs would love that opportunity. Many also would not, but many would. Burke is quite possibly one of them, as is Jim Rutherford. As for the dysfunctional organization theory of why GMs would not want to come to Toronto, I think that is complete hogwash and completely unfounded as evidenced by how the same organization runs the Raptors and by what they have said and done in the past 5 months. Dysfunctional is a Toronto hockey media creation because they don't have a clue about anything starting with hockey and especially with running a business.
First of all, i hate the leafs and nothing in the world makes me happier than seeing their old-washed up gm hire ron wilson, the biggest asshole of any coach in the nhl. As a canadian i am well aware of how insane the Toronto media can be when it comes to their precious underachieving leafs and am looking forward to the many confrontations that are certainly inevitable between Wilson and any reporters who interrogate him about his team and their pathetic performances that will continue next year. Furthermore, i'm very surprised that many people continue to believe that Ron Wilson is actually a good coach when he truly did nothing in San Jose. Without Doug Wilson bringing in players and making him look good, Wilson would of canned a long time ago.

As for Cliff Fletcher, good luck. I hope he gives Mats to a 7 year, 60 million dollar contract cause that would prove how great of a hockey mind he truely is.

Finally, id like to offer my prayer to leafs fan as they will continue to endure many years of their stanley cup drought that as of right now, looks as if it will never come to an end.

Long Live The Calgary Flames

(ps anyone who tries to throw the leafs 13 or so cups back in my face should consider that they probably werent alive to witness any of them)

Your example of Scotty Bowman is an awful one. Only place he was ever GM was Buffalo and they never went anywhere under him and eventually fired him. Bowman was a coach in his other stops.

That shows the risk in waiting for a name GM. Bowman was a big name GM for Buffalo and it didnt work out.

Despite the Toronto media's idea that everyone wants to go to Toronto, I don't see it. Why does Brian Burke want out of Anaheim? He built a good team there. A team that won the Stanley Cup. Toronto has shown that their meddlesome owners likley won't allow him the same freedom. Without that freedom he may fail in Toronto when he would have succeeded in Anaheim.

Not every young GM is John Ferguson Jr. Some are Brian Burke, Ken Holland and Lou Lamoreillo. They were young GMs hired without experience at on e time. Toronto would be better served finding one of them now instead of waiting for one who has already succeeded elsewhere and hoping they can lure him to toronto and while there he can do it again.
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