Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Missing Years

Like pucks lazily drifting past Andrew Raycroft, the reasons for JFJ to be fired are almost too many to count.

The surprise isn't that JFJ’s teams will set a Leaf record for futility by missing the playoffs for three straight years.

The surprise isn’t that a team tagged by its coach as his most talented ever and positioned for a Stanley Cup run is mired in 27th and on the cusp of a lottery pick.

The surprise isn’t that JFJ took a 100 point franchise and turned it into a soft, underperforming team, handcuffed it with long-term contracts, maxed out the cap and then stripped of its few assets for spare parts.

The surprise is that despite of all this, JFJ lasted as long as he did.

The man was the GM of my favourite team for five years. For half a decade, I watched him run a franchise I’ve followed all of my life and I still don’t have a clue what he was trying to do.

He arrived heralding the stockpiling of picks, but in five years, he traded the teams’ top pick three times and the second pick twice.

He spoke about a new era in developing talent, yet his top pick is playing four minutes a night in the NHL instead of getting big minutes in the minors.

I know that he liked to roll the dice. JFJ habitually sought to acquire high-risk high-reward players like Lindros, Allison, Raycroft, and O’Neill. And in every single case, the risk won. Under JFJ there was never a reward in Leaf land.

For every good contract he signed – Kaberle, Antropov, Poni, Sundin – he signed a bad one: Belfour, Domi, Blake, Kubina, McCabe, Tucker.

People claim his true talent was an eye for waiver wire pick-ups, landing Devereaux, Kilger and Moore. But for every fourth line surprise, there was a fourth line bust: Czerkawski, Pohl, Battaglia, Newbury, Suglabov.

Want to measure his supposed ability to assess talent? Count the number of JFJ acquisitions who can no longer find work in the NHL: Allison, Battaglia, Belfour, Berg, Czerkawski, Green, Khavanov, Lindros, O’Neill, and Slugablov.

I dare anyone to find a comparable list of post-lockout busts signed by a single GM.

In the end, he may be a great guy, a wonderful father and husband. He may have been classy when he knew his time had come, but he set the team I love back years. His incompetence or inability to stand up to the board (or some deadly combination of both) has handcuffed this club for years to come. And for that, I am glad that he’s gone.

He left with the media remarking on his class and his ability to keep his head up. His image ironically buffed by the same mouth breathers and one-fingered typists who called for his head and spent the last month in a daily vigil outside the MLSE boardroom door waiting for the blue and white smoke signaling a new Pope Leafs GM.

JFJ often said he was a reflection of his record, and that’s likely the only spot that he and I will ever agree. If ever there was a truly .500 GM – a man that won as often as he lost – JFJ is it.

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