John Ferguson is entering his fourth season as general manager of the Maple Leafs. Ferguson became the 12th person in team history to hold the role when he was introduced August 29, 2003.
In professional sports, when the game is over, there’s nothing you can do. That’s the beauty of it. That’s the agony of it.
Last night, we watched the New Jersey Devils score with less than a second left to push their game with the New York Islanders into overtime. We needed
a Devils win. The Islanders won in penalty shots.
On Saturday, we came back from two goals down to defeat Montreal and eliminate them, but it’s a vastly different feeling when the game is out of your control.
Looking back, I thought we needed to get to 92 points to make the playoffs. We got to 91 and we left it to chance. We ended up on the wrong side of the shootout.
The struggle we encountered this year was not surprising. We did expect to have to compete for a playoff spot. Clearly, we did not expect to lead the league in man games lost to injury, but you do expect to have to overcome injury. We were pressed in that area with injuries to Michael Peca, Pavel Kubina, Tomas Kaberle, Kyle Wellwood and Darcy Tucker. It also represented an opportunity for a lot of players who came in and were productive. We got a lot of good play from players who filled in. What was really encouraging was the continued improvement of some players and the evolution of others into solid NHL pros.
I’m talking about players like Carlo Colaiacovo, Ian White, Wellwood when he returned, Matt Stajan, Alex Steen. John Pohl had 13 goals. These are players who will be relied upon going forward.
Because of our young core, I know that no matter how good we are this year, we’ll be better next year.
I also think people saw the effort of our team, the way we came back against Montreal, the way we battled until the very last game. It would have been easy to get down. We’ve been playing must-win games for six weeks and we knew every point was going to be critical.
You can find that one critical point in a lot of different places but there weren’t many nights when we got outworked or out competed.
It was a great sign for our coaching staff and a great sign for the competitiveness and the character of our players.