It is all but certain the John Ferguson Jr. will be fired some time in the immediate future. The Leafs have been mired in an awful slump with their last win in regulation being over a month ago. Reports have also surfaced that the players are no longer responding to their coach, Paul Maurice, so any new interim GM would likely fire Maurice as his first move.
While there could be endless debates about whether Maurice should get the axe, there is no disputing their paltry record and changes are clearly needed. However, while the team has not performed well, some players have certainly succeeded under Maurice’s guidance. Pat Quinn certainly could not get Alexei Ponikarovsky going and Mats Sundin is currently enjoying his best seasons since 96/97. Granted, Sundin has finally been paired with that prolific winger that he has been deprived of since he came to Toronto…. wait, my mistake… Jason Blake does not qualify.
In today’s Numbers Game, I looked at the production of some of the Leafs that played under both Quinn and Maurice (Mats Sundin, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Nik Antropov, Alexander Steen, Matt Stajan, Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe and Chad Kilger) Specifically, I compared goals, assists and points per game (GPG, APG and PPG) and minutes per game (MPG).
So what is the verdict? Bryan McCabe is fairing no better under Maurice. In fact, his average PPG (0.57) is the exact same as under Quinn. Darcy Tucker and Alex Steen have, in fact, dropped in production while getting the same amount of playing time. Steen has been unable to regain his form that saw him amass 18 goals and 27 points in his rookie season under Quinn. As well, it appears that age is starting to become a factor for Tucker who just can not seem to find the scoresheet this year. Of course this happens in his first season after signing a contract extension.
Sundin, Kaberle, Stajan, and Kilger have all seen negligible increases in their point production. That increase can probably best be attributed to the fact that they are getting more playing time under Maurice with Stajan and Kaberle getting as much as 5.75 and 4.75 more minutes per game.
However, Maurice does appear to be getting the best out of Antropov and Ponikarovsky. Both translated more playing time into a significant increase in production. Antropov will, barring an injury (knock on wood), surpass his career high of 45 points this year, while Ponikarovsky enjoyed the best season of his career last year. The towering Russian forwards have increased their PPG by almost 0.3 points in the last two seasons. A critic could certainly argue though that Antropov and Ponikarovsky were very young when Quinn was the coach and now they have finally figured out how to utilize their skills in the NHL, irrespective of Maurice’s guidance.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that Maurice is completely to blame for the failure of the Leafs. In order to get the best out of players, it certainly helps to surround them with skilled linemates and that’s where Ferguson comes in. Quinn, as well, without question had the luxury of coaching much better teams. Starting in goal, CUJO and Belfour gave the Leafs a very good chance to win every night. Moreover, there was enough talent that Chad Kilger never had to play on the top 2 lines.
Changes are clearly needed for the Leafs and whether deserving or not, one of those changes will like cost Maurice his job. The Leafs just can’t win and the playoffs are a long shot, even in the Eastern conference. The truth is no matter who coaches this current group of players, they are going to have a very difficult time enjoying any kind of success!