Former Maple Leaf Belfour points finger at Ferguson

One-time Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Ed Belfour says John Ferguson's firing of Pat Quinn as general manager and coach in April 2006 was a mistake.

Calls firing of former general manager, coach Pat Quinn 'maybe' a mistake

For the past two days, Toronto Maple Leafs fans have filled the airwaves to assess the performance of John Ferguson, who was fired Tuesday after four-plus years as general manager.

The debate over which of Ferguson's many moves rank as his worst no doubt will continue for an extended period.

But unlike many fans, former Leafs goaltender Ed Belfour didn't cite a player acquisition or signing when asked about Ferguson's tenure with the team.

"I think letting [former general manager and coach] Pat [Quinn] go was maybe a mistake," Belfour, who played in Toronto from 2002 to 2006, told reporter Doug Harrison. "Pat's a first-class guy and that was really unfortunate."

Toronto went 300-222-52 with 26 shootout and overtime losses in seven seasons under Quinn, who twice led the team to the Eastern Conference final, losing to Buffalo in 1999 and Carolina in 2002.

He was fired along with assistant coach Rick Ley on April 20, 2006, two days after the Leafs posted a seventh consecutive 90-plus point season.

Two months later, Ferguson chose not to pick up the $4.5 million US option on Belfour's contract, thus making him an unrestricted free agent. He signed for one year with the Florida Panthers in July 2006 but wasn't offered a contract for this season.

"I really didn't want to leave [Toronto]," said Belfour, 42, who now plays in Sweden for the Leksand Stars. "I definitely miss it there.

"I think [Ferguson] was trying his best and it just didn't work out. I feel bad for the [players] and for the fans that had to suffer because of [management's] bad decisions. The fans have high expectations and there's nothing wrong with that. Everybody wants to win.

"There were a lot of changes [when I was there] but sometimes change isn't always the best."

Belfour also weighed in on the Mats Sundin trade rumours, saying the longtime Toronto captain deserves a chance to win a Stanley Cup.

Sundin, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, has a no-trade clause in his contract and would have to waive it for interim GM Cliff Fletcher to make a deal.

Fletcher acquired Sundin in 1994 in his first tenure with the Leafs, trading fan favourite Wendel Clark to the Quebec Nordiques in a multi-player deal that brought in the six-foot-five, 230-pound centre.

"I'd love to see Mats win a Stanley Cup for sure," said Belfour, who led the Dallas Stars to a Cup title in 1999. "He's a great guy, he's a great captain and a great leader.… I'm sure he'll make the right decision."

Belfour excited about Swedish hopes

As for Eddie the Eagle, he sports a 1.79 goals-against average with five shutouts and a .918 save percentage in 15 games for Leksand, which plays in the second highest league in Sweden, the Allsvenskan.

Belfour is looking forward to March 19, when the Stars will begin qualification games in hopes of returning to the Swedish Elite League. Leksand hasn't played in the Elitserien since the 2005-06 campaign.

While Belfour would like a chance to win another Stanley Cup, he is excited about what lies ahead for the Stars.

"It was an opportunity to learn a culture and help Leksand try to make it back to the Elitserien," the native of Carman, Man., said of his decision to play in Sweden. "It's not going to be easy and I think that'll be challenging and a good feeling to help them. It also gives me a chance to work on my game and get better.

"My loyalty is to Leksand until the end of the season and we can see what happens [about a potential return to the NHL] in the summer. I can still prove some things [in the NHL] and have a lot to offer."

Belfour posted a 27-17-10 record with a 2.77 GAA for the Panthers last season. He also boasts a 2.50 GAA and 76 shutouts in 963 career NHL regular-season games with the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Dallas and Toronto.

A two-time Vezina Trophy winner as the NHL's top goalie, Belfour ranks third on the NHL's all-time wins list with 484 victories, behind Martin Brodeur (520) and Hall of Famer Patrick Roy (551).