Just another day at the beach

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

BOSTON -- There were no sightings of a silver-haired man in a blue sombrero and poncho at Logan Airport yesterday.

But evidence still points to Cliff Fletcher as the choice to take control of hockey operations for the Maple Leafs after his Mexican vacation.

The only thing that could change the minds of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. now would be a dramatic turnaround during the next three games, beginning last night in Boston and ending Sunday afternoon in Newark. Richard Peddie, the president and CEO of MLSEL, has declined interviews the past few days while Fletcher and board chairman Larry Tanenbaum are both away.

By Monday, it's expected former Leafs president and GM Fletcher will be back in his Phoenix home and returning calls to the board. It's a sure bet he will try to parlay this short-term rescue mission into a permanent role with the power to hire a new GM and, likely, a new coach, then kick himself upstairs. That might clash with Peddie's vision of the club hierarchy in which he retains a say in major hockey decisions, a stance that has hindered big names such as Scotty Bowman from coming in last summer.

But before any giddy talk of the good old days of the early 1990s and Pat Burns coming back as coach, there still is the issue of what to do with the current GM and coach, especially if two or three wins on top of beating Carolina on Tuesday gives the board cold feet.

Yesterday looked to be a normal working day for GM John Ferguson, answering a stream of calls as he watched the morning skate, chatting with Bruins counterpart Peter Chiarelli and playing hide 'n' seek with the media.

Ferguson was getting the sympathy vote around the NHL yesterday for putting his head and his heart into his work amid reports the board was trying to cut off his power at the knees.

Support for Ferguson came from fellow GM Brian Burke, who was once listed as a possible replacement.

"Even if you're the biggest jerk in the world, he shouldn't be hanging in the air and swinging in the wind like this and getting rocks thrown at him in all directions," Burke told TSN. "I don't think MLSEL wanted it this way either. I don't think there's any malice there. Richard Peddie is a good guy, it's just unfortunate that it has gone this way. I was a lame-duck GM for a year (in Vancouver), and that's a tough thing to be in Canada. I can say from personal experience that it's no fun."

Paul Maurice had not lost his sense of humour when asked if he was distracted by all the Fletcher talk.

"My only concern would be if Mr. Fletcher could skate," the coach said of his team's depth problems.


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