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Ferguson's future on firmer footing

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'It's good, positive news': Leafs pick up one-year option on GM's contract
Michael Traikos, National Post
Thursday, November 23, 2006

TORONTO - John Ferguson has been a busy man over the past seven months.

First, the Maple Leafs' general manager fired his team's 63-year-old head coach and replaced him with Paul Maurice, who is almost have that age. He then traded his team's goaltender of the future for Andrew Raycroft, a former rookie-of-the-year who had fallen on hard times in Boston.

Finally, he bolstered his team's back-end by signing defencemen Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina and Hal Gill, along with two-time Selke Trophy winner Michael Peca.

The result?

Toronto, which missed the playoffs last season, headed into last night's game against Buffalo with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

And Ferguson, who this season entered the final year of a four-year contract, was rewarded for his efforts.

Sort of.

Yesterday, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment picked up the one-year option for 2007-08 on Ferguson's contract. For a 39-year-old general manager who was seeking a long-term deal, it was a milquetoast gesture, but one that was still welcomed with a smile and the belief that the future holds reason for further optimism.

"It's good, positive news," Ferguson told reporters yesterday morning inside an empty Leafs dressing room. "It allows us to continue and execute the plan we put in place some four years ago ... and continue to achieve our goals."

Though the contract extension was not the long-term deal that Ferguson desires -- and may actually deserve -- it no longer makes him a "lame duck" as he navigates his way through this season.

"The great thing about this here is I've got 12 more months in my deal than I had yesterday," said Ferguson. "More than that, it's a real strong demonstration that we're on the right track. And we will be."

According to MLSE president and CEO Richard Peddie, the decision to pick up Ferguson's option was based on how the Leafs have "pleasantly surprised" to start the season.

Toronto entered last night's game with 28 points in 22 games. The team has the same number of wins (12) as it did at this time last year, a season that saw the club nosedive in the standings after Christmas.

"I've been very pleased with what we've done after a quarter of the season's gone and I thought it was a good time to pick it up, said Peddie. "I'm very hopeful that come the spring we'll be sitting down and extending his contract."

The decision to extend Ferguson a long-term deal will ultimately depend on how the Leafs perform for the remainder of the schedule.

Toronto must make the playoffs. And, for Ferguson to get a vote of confidence from the powers that be, the team cannot afford to be eliminated in the first round.

Along the way, Ferguson may have to decide what to do with forward Darcy Tucker, who becomes a free agent after this season, and captain Mats Sundin, who has a team option for 2007-08.

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