Temp job for Fletcher is fine

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

Cliff Fletcher's name was everywhere yesterday -- from the Air Canada Centre, to radio sports talk shows, in media scrums after the Maple Leafs' morning skate, and even among the players, although for public consumption most feigned disinterest behind pleas of "whatever happens, happens."

Fletcher has become the warm and fuzzy answer to all that ails this beleaguered franchise. When word leaked that the former Leafs general manager is an option to replace the embattled John Ferguson, Leafs Nation jumped at the notion like shipwrecked rats to a life raft.

Fletcher? His reaction was to say yesterday that he and his wife, Linda, would be leaving today for a vacation in Cancun. Maybe the flight stops in Toronto. Maybe he'll send the Leafs lovely vacation photos. Either way, in light of the hysteria that grips Toronto his restraint is admirable.

Pavel Kubina said he has seen the like of such frenzy only once, when his national team lost a quarter-final at the world championship and fans wanted to put lynching back in the rule book.

"The media was all over us," he said in yesterday morning's media-packed dressing room. "So I got a taste, but nothing like this."

Leafs fans might want to second that treason notion but right now they're too busy fawning over the possible hiring of Fletcher which, while incredibly popular, would also be a mistake borne of panic and a move that is, well, oh so very Leafesque. This has become a franchise that, whenever it needs to look ahead, has a tendency to look back. Instead of building a new future, it looks at rebuilding a crumbling present with a shaky past. Like all that stuff about Curtis Joseph.

Just because the guy played well at a second-rate tournament in Europe does not qualify him for saviour status with the Leafs. Sure, he was great the first time he was in Toronto but he's not going to make the difference between this team winning the Stanley Cup and not. Maybe he helps them finish eighth if he doesn't sign with the Calgary Flames. Yippee. Be still my racing heart.

Which brings us back to another retread, Fletcher. No disrespect intended. He knows more about hockey than any columnist around my breakfast table, but if he comes back to town in any other capacity than in a temporary, caretaker role to clear salary space this is just another step on a weary road through nostalgia. Been there. Done that. It is a Maple Leafs specialty. It doesn't work.

Wendel Clark was supposed to come back and save the day. But didn't.

Doug Gilmour was the returning superhero. That lasted almost one shift. Yanic Perreault? Let's not even go there. Even Harold Ballard tried it as far back as 1979 when he turned to the iconic Punch Imlach to coach. That lasted 10 games. Former Leafs are like back-up quarterbacks. They're always more fondly remembered then the guys doing the job today. The romance usually lasts about as long as a Hollywood marriage.

Fletcher was Leafs general manager from 1991-97 and engineered trades involving Mats Sundin, Gilmour, Clark and took the team to conference finals in 1993 and 1994. They were wondrous days. It earned him the moniker of Trader Cliff. There's just one problem.

The NHL of those days is no longer a reality. It's questionable that, with salary caps and today's restrictions, Fletcher would be able to transform this Leafs' team like he did that one more than a decade ago.

The Leafs have to build for the future, with youth, which involves drafting and scouting -- neither of which route Fletcher has ever been terribly interested in following.

People remember the Fletcher whose shrewd dealing put him in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But is that the Fletcher the Leafs would be getting? It is just as likely to be the one Toronto fired in 1997. Or the one fired after last season in Phoenix.

Fletcher is a gentleman who deserves all the respect that he is accorded. But the moves for which he is heralded were all made more than a decade ago and in his seven seasons in Phoenix he didn't turn water to wine -- the team missed the playoffs five times, including the past two seasons.


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