NHL

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fergie junior deserves a shot

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- John Ferguson Jr. should and will get strong consideration for the vacant GM position with the Montreal Canadiens.

The Habs sacked boss Pierre Gauthier and special assistant Bob Gainey on Thursday and will now begin, according to owner Geoff Molson, an exhaustive search for a new GM.

To that end, Molson has tapped Serge Savard to lead the search and you can be sure Ferguson's name is on Savard's list.

Ferguson has been rehabilitating his reputation the last few years, first in a management role with Team Canada and then with the San Jose Sharks as one of GM Doug Wilson's top men, and the NHL has taken notice.

Last summer he was brought in to Columbus to talk to Blue Jackets ownership about a senior consultant role that wasn't filled until this winter when Craig Patrick was hired.

Ferguson's references have been checked a few times in the last 12 months and the prevailing winds in the league say it's time he got his second chance.

Successful

Savard had a long and successful relationship with John Ferguson Sr. in Montreal and Winnipeg and has respect and admiration for the son.

Ferguson is bilingual, has been to the school of hard knocks and is experienced at all levels of an organization from player to GM.

Before a difficult and ultimately doomed stint as GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ferguson was considered to be one of the game's sharpest young minds. A Providence business degree and a law degree from Suffolk University in Boston gives Ferguson the book smarts.

Being the son of the late John Ferguson Sr. and a shrewd manager in both hockey and business as well as a pro player for parts of four seasons gives JFJ the hockey cred.

There's no question Ferguson is smart but perhaps the best quality he now embodies is experience. He knows what he did right and what he did wrong in Toronto and thirsts for the opportunity to put those lessons into effect with another hockey club.

Involved in writing the NHL's collective bargaining agreement framework, first as a law student in the '90s and most recently as GM of the Leafs during the last round of negotiations, Ferguson knows the CBA and all its intricacies better than most GMs or cap gurus. He has the rare mix of education and hockey lineage.

Ferguson was no fair-haired boy tabbed for the Leafs job right out of school.

He came up the right way, with a lengthy apprenticeship in the St. Louis Blues organization.

The Leafs job was a mistake. It's the wrong gig for any first-timer, be it a coach or manager, and it ended badly for Ferguson.

The board of directors meddled and tied his hands as he attempted to move ahead with a long-term plan much like the one Brian Burke is now trying to implement. The board and Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment majordomo Richard Peddie said all the right things at the outset but bailed the minute the famously fickle Toronto fans started to wail.

Trades and moves aimed at building for the future were nixed and ultimately Ferguson crashed. He wears much of the blame but he was never put into a position to succeed.

Savard will have many fine candidates to choose from and Ferguson may end up not being the ideal candidate.

Conversely, the job may not prove to be the right one for Ferguson as it's unlikely he would take a position that doesn't give him ultimate power. He'll want a long-term deal and the power to enact his vision.

He won't shortchange himself this time as others did in his run with the Leafs.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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