General manager John Ferguson Jr. was fired Tuesday by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but leaves professional hockey's most intense market with few regrets.
"The only regret I have is I failed to … bring this club in a position to win the Stanley Cup," he said.
Ferguson, 40, was dismissed by Richard Peddie, president and chief executive officer of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment.
"Our team performance has fallen short of what is to be expected," Peddie said.
Asked his immediate reaction to the news, Ferguson said: "Up until the point, earlier today, my focus solely has been getting this club back on track."
"I have learned a great deal," he continued. "We all learn from experience — I'm better off for it and I believe this club is, as well."
Ferguson was replaced by former Maple Leafs president and GM Cliff Fletcher, who agreed to serve as interim GM until the team hires a full-time successor.
"John Ferguson is a fine young hockey guy and he is going to get another chance to run a team," Fletcher told Hockey Night In Canada Radio on Sirius. "He will be more experienced when he takes on that new challenge."
Peddie retained the services of Gordon Kirke, a noted sports agent, lawyer and professor, to conduct the search for a new GM.
"I have enormous respect for John," Kirke told HNIC Radio. "John is one of the finest people in the game of hockey I've met."
Toronto (19-22-8) is mired in 14th place in the Eastern Conference and tied for 28th in the NHL, and in danger of missing the playoffs for a third straight season.
The Maple Leafs finished one point shy of a playoff berth last season, and two points back in 2005-06.
"I am proud of my record here," said Ferguson, who posted a 145-110-30 mark (with 10 ties) in Toronto.
"There are a number of things that were put in place, that weren't here when I got here. There are prospects we've yet to see the best of.
"There is a future here. We have not seen the best of it."
"I've only been here for a few months and there are certain things you cannot control," said Maple Leafs forward Jason Blake, signed by Ferguson to a five-year, $20-million US contract.
"We weren't getting the job done. There is a change made and it is the players that have to be accountable to make sure we're ready to play.
"We're trying to turn this thing around and move in the right direction. I guess as players, you cannot control it, so you've got to make sure you're ready to play."
Ferguson was hired as the 12th GM in Maple Leafs history on Aug. 29, 2003, following a stint as director of hockey operations with the St. Louis Blues, bringing with him a reputation as one of hockey's brightest young executives.
"I had all the duties typically reserved for the general manager," he said. "Everyone reports to superiors, to boards and our club is no different.
"I sought the responsibility and accountability as general manager and I acted accordingly."
Ferguson, though, was received awkwardly by incumbent head coach Pat Quinn, who was dismissed and replaced by Paul Maurice on May 12, 2006.
"You try desperately to find the positives and, for me, it was John's example and leadership through difficult times that was clearly something to see," Maurice said. "He was always there with support and open with his convictions and what he believed in about the hockey team."
"Being media savvy certainly is a big plus in Toronto, otherwise they can have you on their heels because the intensity of the media coverage is the strongest of any city in the NHL," Fletcher said. "I compare running a sports team in Toronto to running the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys."
Ferguson served as assistant GM of the Blues for five years before being promoted.
Prior to that, he was involved in scouting for the Ottawa Senators from 1993 to 1996.
"I've learned a tremendous amount," Ferguson said. "There's been somewhere in the neighbourhood of 11 general managers [hired in the league] since I've been here [in Toronto] and I'm excited about my next opportunity."