TORONTO (Reuters) - The Toronto Maple Leafs fired general manager John Ferguson Jr. and appointed Cliff Fletcher in his place on an interim basis, the NHL team said on Tuesday.
The team has been struggling to pull out of a tailspin that threatens to put it out of playoff contention for a third successive season.
"After full consideration of the Leafs' situation, it has become clear that change and a new direction is needed," Richard Peddie, president and chief executive of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd., told a news conference.
"Regrettably we did not win enough games and reach our goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Our team performance has fallen short of what has been expected."
Fletcher, who was the Leafs' general manager from 1991 to 1997, will take over the role as interim general manager with full autonomy until a replacement has been found to fill the dual role of president and general manager.
"I would like to thank Richard and the board for making me the custodian of the keys for a period of time, and I look forward to the challenge and a few tough months ahead," Fletcher said.
"I know that here in Toronto the expectations are high, and the key is to initially start the process to move the club ahead to the next level so that it can compete with all the top teams in the league."
Under Ferguson, who was appointed GM in August 2003, the Leafs missed the playoffs for the past two years. They have a record of 19-22-5-3 this year and sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference.
Overall under Ferguson, Toronto had a combined record of 145 wins, 110 losses, 10 ties, 13 overtime losses, and 17 shootout losses.
Reporting by Scott Anderson; Editing by Justin Palmer