Hire Fletcher: NHL execs

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

Two NHL general managers and one former general manager believe Cliff Fletcher is the ideal choice to become interim GM of the struggling Maple Leafs.

Each of the hockey insiders independently selected Fletcher as the best candidate to replace John Ferguson, if only for the remainder of this NHL season.

The Leafs, who fired Fletcher 10 years ago as president and general manager, are on the historical verge of missing the playoffs for a third consecutive year, something no previous Leafs team has managed. The Leafs have contacted Fletcher about the interim job, TSN reported last night.

"The Leafs need someone to come in and shake things up, someone who is not afraid to make big deals and Cliff is one of the most active traders in the game," a working general manager with intimate knowledge of the Leafs' difficulties said yesterday.

"The other thing is, Cliff brings a lot with him. He has instant credibility. He gets along well with the media. He's respected. Everybody in the NHL knows him. And if his knowledge of the league isn't what it used to be, then the one thing he does have is the ability to find that information if necessary. I think this is the kind of challenge Cliff would embrace."

Fletcher has been out of the NHL basically for the first time in 40 years after being fired as director of hockey operations by the Phoenix Coyotes in April. He previously had served as general manager of the Coyotes.

"Had it not been for Cliff, this franchise might not be here," Wayne Gretzky, the Phoenix coach and part-owner, said at the time. "He was the guy that really was the glue that held this franchise together when it was in desperate times."

The Leafs, for the record, are in desperate times. Not only are they 28th in a 30-team NHL, but they have $40 million in salary allocated already for next season, none of it going to Mats Sundin, Alex Steen, Kyle Wellwood or Matt Stajan. Turning to Fletcher would not be a long-term move but it would pave the way for the hiring of a full-time successor to Ferguson.

The Leafs need someone creative to find ways of moving the many contracts that were negotiated poorly by Ferguson, including those of backup goalie Andrew Raycroft, defenceman Pavel Kubina, and struggling forwards Darcy Tucker and Jason Blake.

"Cliff has done this before," said a former GM, who recommended Fletcher ahead of himself for a position that may not yet be available. "In Phoenix, he had to trade (Nikolai) Khabibulin and others to strip the roster thin because of budget. He knows how to conduct a fire sale. I don't know if there has been a more active and more aggressive trader in hockey history.

"Look at Cliff's history. He's not afraid to make a big deal, win or lose. He's bold that way. Look how the Mats Sundin trade has worked out for the Leafs. Nobody wanted to see Wendel Clark traded, but Cliff had the guts to make that deal.

"If you look at Mats Sundin, Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark you can say that Cliff had a part in trading for or trading away three of the most important Leafs of the past 25 years."

Fletcher traded for Sundin; now, as an interim GM, he could be the one to convince the Leafs captain it's in his best interests and the team's to be traded elsewhere.

Fletcher did express an interest in the senior adviser position the Leafs were allegedly looking for this summer, although the job Scotty Bowman believed he was interviewing for was with complete control, not an advisory capacity. Fletcher was never contacted by the Leafs.

Attempts to reach Fletcher yesterday were unsuccessful. None of the messages left on his Phoenix cellphone were returned, which is uncharacteristic of Fletcher and may confirm he already has talked with the Leafs.

In his first year and a half as general manager of the Leafs in 1991, Fletcher hired Pat Burns as coach, and traded for future Hall of Famers Doug Gilmour, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr. In five years on the job, Ferguson inherited a 100-point roster and managed it to decline. In the post-lockout NHL, when the team truly became his, has yet to qualify for the post-season.

Fletcher told Sun Media in an interview earlier this month that the GM's job is tougher now under the salary cap. "It really penalizes you if you make a mistake (by signing player for a lot of years and a lot of dollars). If a player does not live up to expectations, it's double jeopardy. Not only is he not performing, but you don't have the ability to recover from that mistake."

---

CLIFF FLETCHER

Age: 72

Skinny: The former Maple Leafs GM won't have to go house-hunting if he comes back to Toronto, as he still has a condo here. Fletcher, elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004, most recently was the vice-president of hockey operations for the Phoenix Coyotes but has been biding his time since he was fired in April. Fletcher certainly would not be afraid to overhaul the Leafs: His nickname in the past was Trader Cliff, given his propensity for making multi-player deals.


Videos

Photos