I’m not a John Ferguson Jr. fan.
I feel the Leafs blundered when they made him the general manager of their hockey team – with so many possible candidates available, why choose one with absolutely zero management experience for the most important executive position in the organization? To this point in Ferguson’s tenure, I don't have many reasons to think his management has been anything but mediocre, since the team has accomplished nothing of significance since he took the wheel from Pat Quinn in 2003. And the Board members of MLSE must be thinking the same thing, since to date, they have refused to extend Ferguson's contract beyond 2006-2007. (Although, Ferguson's appointment looks like a stroke of genius compared with the decisionmaking going on in the Islanders' head office.)
But I’m willing to follow the upcoming season with an open mind. Maybe Quinn really was the main antagonist standing in the way of Ferguson’s boardroom machinations to bring a Cup to Toronto. Maybe all Ferguson needed to shape the team into the necessary image was $20 million in cap space, and the subtraction of various floaters and clubhouse cancers from the roster. And maybe Ferguson really does have a Master Plan in a vault someplace after all. So I made up my mind – I’ll continue to scrutinize Ferguson’s moves, but I won’t go into this thing holding any particular bias against the man, regardless of what I’ve questioned in the past.
Some people have different attitudes, it seems. In today’s Toronto Sun, Steve Simmons made the following remarks:“So here's something to chew on: Was John Ferguson Jr. aware that Eric Lindros was eligible for performance bonuses this coming season and if he was, why did he tell the Lindros camp he didn't know? Either way, it doesn't look good on Junior, who either didn't know the rules or led others to believe he didn’t.”
Does Simmons really believe Ferguson is this stupid? Wait – first, for this to be true, we have to accept as truth that Ferguson actually told the “Lindros camp” (What "camp"? Lindros represented himself in all negotiations this year) he didn’t know Lindros was eligible for performance bonuses, something I haven’t seen reported anywhere else.
Secondly, we have to believe that Ferguson, a former lawyer, somehow missed the article in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement
that lays out the conditions for eligibility for performance bonuses. The one applying to Lindros is found on page 189, 50.2(b)(i)(C)(2)(iii):“Players who are “400-plus game Players” for pension purposes, and who: (i) in the last year of their most recent SPC, spent 100 days or more on the injured reserve list; and (ii) have signed a one-year SPC for the current or upcoming League Year.”
Even with Lindros' incredible injury history, he is clearly vested in the NHL player's pension plan with a minimum of 400 games played. So all Ferguson had to do to find out if Lindros qualified for performance bonuses next season was to double-check his calendar and see if Lindros spent 100 days or more on the shelf last year, which anyone with a pulse knows was probably the case.
Finally, Ferguson has already proven he has some familiarity with the above CBA provision, since he gave Jason Allison an incentive-laden contract last season with consideration for the above-stipulated conditions.
So I don’t believe for a second that Ferguson was foolish enough to lack any awareness of a well-known, easily confirmable CBA clause he used himself only last season. If he actually told Lindros he didn't know he was eligible for performance bonuses, given the above facts, then he must have hid in the bushes with his knowledge of the CBA bonus clauses. Nothing else makes any sense.
If this is true, then why would Ferguson do it?
We know that only days before Lindros signed with Dallas, it was reported that Lindros was “buoyed” by a meeting with Ferguson and Paul Maurice at the news that he would be Toronto’s second-line centre this season.
So what happened after that? Luckily, I have the exact transcript of the events that followed:
***Paul Maurice and John Ferguson are standing in Ferguson's office, smiling and shaking hands with Eric Lindros, who is nattily dressed in an expensive suit. Lindros waves goodbye, and walks from the room.
Ferguson: (closing door behind departing Lindros) Okay! Great meeting, everybody. I think we’ll be able to sign the big guy on the cheap for next season. I love this ‘hometown discount’ thing.(the phone rings)
Maurice: Hey Ferg – It's Mike Peca’s agent. He says he wants to play for us next season, and is willing to take a big discount to do it.
Ferguson: Geez, another one? I’m telling you Paulie, I have to beat these guys off with a stick. Peca, huh? He’s pretty good, actually. How much of a discount?
Maurice: A lot. He says he’ll sign for two-point-five.
Ferguson: Sweet, let’s do it! In your face,
John Muckler! Oh, wait – what about Lindros? This means we can’t afford him now unless he takes the base contract we offered - $750,000. Well, I guess we can throw in some bonus clauses -
Maurice: Who cares! Screw the bonuses, we don’t need him. Remember when his daddy complained to the media about Erica’s wrist injury? Like it’s our fault or something his son is a china-doll. We don’t need that kind of crap. Payback, baby. And if anybody complains about letting him go, we'll just pretend we didn't know about the bonus option.
Ferguson: Yes. Burn!
High-five, Paulie. C’mon, high-five, high-five.*slap*
Maurice: Hey, the phone’s ringing again. It looks like Eric’s cell! What do we do?
Ferguson: Oh, this is awesome! Put it on speaker.*click*
Eric Lindros: Heya John? I just wanted to express my appreciation for today’s –
Ferguson: Eric Lindros? THIS
is John Ferguson! About that contract – I have a briefcase on my desk. It has $750,000 in it – and that’s all!
Lindros: What the fu – I don’t understand?
Ferguson: Paulie! Shhh!
Quiet, now. Ahem. Lindros? Lindros!
This is how it is, goddammit, now pay attention. Seven-fifty! No bonuses. Deal? Or NO DEAL?!
Maurice: Oh, man! BWAH HA HA HA!
Lindros: You son of a –(Ferguson hangs up)
Ferguson: HA HA HA!
Peca’s contract – two-point-five. The chance to blow off Eric Lindros? Priceless!
Maurice: Whoo, hoo, hoo! You’re the king, man. Let’s go get some tacos, I’m buying!
And that’s how Lindros became a Dallas Star, folks.