No easing the pain

Chris Groenendyk (left) and Mark Barbosa show their feelings last night at the Air Canada Centre....

Chris Groenendyk (left) and Mark Barbosa show their feelings last night at the Air Canada Centre. SUN MEDIA/Joe Warmington

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

As he packed up such vital items like, perhaps, coconut oil for his coming Mexican vacation -- we're assuming that, at age 72, sun screen will be a neccesity for him - Cliff Fletcher likely was unaware that fans in the east end of the Air Canada Centre were chanting his name last night.

While Fletcher was down at his Arizona home preparing for his coming siesta in the sun, he obviously remained front and centre on the minds of the disgruntled legions that make up the so-called Leafs Nation.

"Hire Fletcher!" bellowed a handful of spectators as the clock clicked down on the final moments of the Maple Leafs-Carolina Hurricanes game on Bay St.

Such calls for change have become commonplace in these parts recently, but it was the timing of the chants that provided the most intrigue.

The Leafs were actually winning -- no, that is not a misprint -- by a 5-3 score when the locals began urging the suits running Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd. to snap up Fletcher.

Even when the Leafs were posting their first regulation-time victory since Dec. 14 -- this one finished as a 5-4 decision over the visiting 'Canes -- it appears the demand for change is as high as ever.

News of the contact between the Leafs and Fletcher the past few days has created a sudden groundswell of support for the white-haired executive of the Phoenix Coyotes, who still is under contract through 2008-09.

Leaving the desert doesn't seem to be the big problem for Fletcher right now. If he bolts the Coyotes simply will stop paying him.

Getting the feuding power brokers on the MLSEL board to come to a consensus and act quickly and proactively, well, that's another story.

By now it has become common knowledge that Fletcher is slated to leave today with his wife for a vacation in the Mayan Riviera. He is scheduled to return one week from today, although a firm offer from the Leafs to become their interim general manager for the remainder of the season likely would lure him up here at a moment's notice.

"I can't really say anything," Fletcher told Sun Media yesterday. "They have a management team in place right now."

There is speculation that a board meeting will take place next week in order to clarify the future of the franchise, most noteably that of GM John Ferguson, who has been hung out to dry.

If the grand pooh-bahs at MLSEL don't feel a suitable replacement, even on an interim basis, can be located by the Feb. 26 trade deadline, then sign Ferguson for another year and see if he can bring in a nice package of prospects and/or draft picks for veterans like Mats Sundin, Jason Blake or Pavel Kubina. Finding takers for the latter two might be tough, given their hefty contracts.

Either way, if management doesn't like the moves, they always can cast Ferguson adrift in the summer.

SHOULD SHOW CLASS

If the Leafs decide to go in a different direction -- and that's the path they appear to be on right now -- then at least show enough class to let Ferguson leave now and hire someone immediately that can pull off the deals that need to be made.

During an interview with Sportsnet during the second intermission, Ferguson pointed at himself when asked who was to blame for the Leafs struggles.

"Right now we need to go about 27-12 to reach 90 points, and there is no guarantee of that (being enough to make the playoffs)," he said.

The names of Doug Armstrong and Neil Smith were being bandied around the rink last night, a pair of former NHL GMs that have enjoyed some success in the league.Another unsubstantiated rumour -- and there was no shortage of them -- suggested the Calgary Flames might be interested in acquiring Darcy Tucker.

Whether there is any truth to such scuttlebutt, the question remains: Even if it were true, who would be the man to pull the trigger on such a deal?

If you listened to the fans last night, it would be Cliff Fletcher.


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