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Assistant GM Jeff Jackson on leaving the Leafs Add to ...

We ran a small brief in the paper on Monday after it was revealed Leafs assistant GM and director of hockey operations Jeff Jackson had left the team, and to my surprise it was one of the more popular items on globesports.com that day.

I've also had a number of emails from readers looking for more details on Jackson's departure and what it means, so I caught up with him this week to chat briefly about his decision.

Jackson has been with the Leafs for four years, dating back to when he was John Ferguson's right-hand man, and he said he wanted to keep his departure low key. Despite some speculation out there, there was no turmoil in the Leafs front office, and this move was something Jackson said has been in the works for months.

After GM Brian Burke brought in both Dave Nonis (senior VP of hockey ops) and Dave Poulin (VP of hockey ops), Jackson said the writing was on the wall.

He was a second-round pick by the Leafs in 1983 and played 77 games with Toronto before moving onto the stints with the Rangers, Nordiques and Blackhawks before retiring in 1992. Jackson then practised law for eight years with Heenan Blaikie LLP in Toronto, where he handled some salary arbitration cases for NHL teams.

Despite rumours he may join the NHLPA in some capacity, he said nothing had been offered on that front and only that staying in hockey "was a possibility."

"Coming back to the Leafs, four years ago, was pretty cool," Jackson said. "It was an honour to be drafted by them, it was great to work for them. It's one of the toughest sports markets in the world, so it was kind of a baptism by fire on the management side.

"In a lot of respects, it's been a rough four years because of the inability to have success. I was hoping I'd be part of a winning team here because when it happens, it's going to be a great place to be. So, it is a hard thing to be leaving, but it's just the right time.

"Burkie and I talked a lot about it and Dave Nonis and I talked about it, and it was one of those things where I wasn't going to be part of the key management group that they have in place currently and going forward, so it was the right time to leave. We just kind of picked the Olympic break - it's just kind of a natural break - and that's when I really kind of stepped aside.

"I'm leaving on good terms, no hard feelings. Burkie was really fair to me and treated me well so I'm not leaving under a cloud or anything. It's just one of those things in hockey - people have their own guys and, you know, I didn't fit into that group.

"I was hoping to stay, but it didn't work out that way."

Here are a few more comments from Jackson for those interested:

Why he left midseason: "The thought was if I wasn't going to be part of the group beyond the end of my contract, then there's no point in staying, really … It gives me an opportunity to get a jump on talking to different teams whether that's what I'm going to do or looking at other opportunities. It also gives the team the opportunity to bring somebody else in.

"The timing of it made sense, for all of us. A lot of the work is done for the year and now the next set of work will be negotiating Group 2s and free agency and at that point you're getting into July, which is when I would have been leaving anyway."

On Ferguson, his former boss: "I think John's a really good hockey man, he's a really good person and he works hard and he knows the game inside and out. I think that for whatever reason he became a bit of a target here. He's got an important job with a very good organization now and plays a key role with San Jose and their success (as a scout).

"It's easy to pick someone and then keep blaming things on him. There are a lot of really good things that Fergie did that he never gets credit for. But he's never the type of guy to bring those up. If you look a little deeper than a lot of people do, there's lots of really good things that he did, personnel things he would do again and a lot of people would do. For example, Tomas Kaberle's deal is an incredible deal for the type of player he is and what he gives a team and the salary cap - all you ever heard was how bad the Bryan McCabe deal was. Bryan's deal wasn't bad when compared to the production of his peers, but Kabby's deal was so much better than his. But you never really ever heard anyone say what a great deal with Kabby. That's just one example.

"It comes with the territory. Fergie said that. He always says that 'hey when you're in the Toronto market and you're the GM of the Leafs, you've got a big target on your back and that's part of what you accept when you take it.' But he's gone on and he's doing an important job with the Sharks and I think he's enjoying himself."

On if his role was focused on being a "capologist": "When you're negotiating all the deals and planning your signings and planning how much you're going to spend, and everything else, you have to know the cap inside and out and that was part of my job. That term kind of was thrown around a little bit, but it was almost like one of those terms that was used a few years ago and doesn't seem like it's used anymore.

"I was responsible for a lot of things like the operating budget, the capital budget, all of the capital projects - it's a big job and when you tack on the Marlies stuff, it was lots of work and I enjoyed it. It was great experience working for the Leafs - it's been a really good learning experience."

On Burke turning things around: "I look at the team now and say they're going to have pretty good goaltending, some good defence, some good young forwards and they're going to add to that the next couple years. All of a sudden you've got the makings of a pretty good group. That's kind of where I see the team going.

"You have five or six really good young forwards and then you keep the character guys that you have and all of a sudden you're going to be in every game. Look at Phoenix. There's always an example every year of a team that's kind of able to do that."

 

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