To-do list a long one

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Senior citizens who think they can still make a difference have a new champion in Cliff Fletcher.

At 72, he's taken on one of the most stressful jobs in Canada, rebuilding the fallen Maple Leafs and attempting it for the second time, no less.

Fletcher was re-introduced as interim general manager yesterday at the Air Canada Centre, hours after parent company Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. (MLSEL) had finally put the ineffective John Ferguson out of his misery after four years.

Fletcher signed a 19-month deal, to the end of the 2008-09 season, when he hopes to be serving as adviser with a full-time GM, and likely a new coach in place, both picked with his input.

"Hopefully, I can set the table," said Fletcher, who served as president, GM and COO from 1991 to '97. "So when the new person comes in, he can get moving (toward a Stanley Cup) the same day."

DEADLINE APPROACHES

But the Hall Of Famer's to-do list is a long one, with a relatively short time frame.

As the National Hockey League's trade deadline approaches on Feb. 26, he must get team captain Mats Sundin to either commit to accepting a deal that will help net prospects and draft picks, or stay here, sign a new deal and retire a Leaf.

Fletcher, known as the Silver Fox among league colleagues for such trades that netted the Leafs Doug Gilmour and Sundin, will have to cut some dead wood on the roster at the deadline, too.

EXPENSIVE CONTRACTS

His next important date is July 1, the start of free agent shopping, by which time he must try to dump expensive, long-term contracts afforded to such players as Jason Blake, Darcy Tucker and Pavel Kubina to get salary-cap breathing room for pursuit of free agents. Some of those deals have no-movement clauses.

He must restore the draft as a building tool after years of high picks that were wasted or traded.

With the lagging Leafs on pace to pick in the top five of a good junior crop this June, he claims his infamous "draft, schmaft" comment of 12 years ago was a flip remark.

As he stated yesterday, he must find a GM "with a track record," but also a coach who can grow with a young team.

There is a feeling Fletcher is on a philosophical collision course with MLSE president and CEO Richard Peddie, who is heading up the new GM search committee with sports lawyer Gord Kirke.

But Fletcher has negotiated his way through board interference before. If he succeeds in all this, Fletcher will have accomplished another task the board gave him yesterday -- clean up the team image. The hierarchy has been criticized heavily in the past three non-playoff years for putting finances before the fans and has an adversarial relationship with the huge Toronto media.

"QUOTES"

We asked our readers on torontosun.com what they thought Cliff Fletcher's first move as interim general manager should be. Here's a selection of their responses:

I believe Fletcher should take a hard look at the current players/salaries/performances and decide who can be traded at top dollar and recruit a good handful of top draft picks. Take the next couple of years to develop a team of young fast, tough players to compete with the likes of Crosby/Ovechkin/Malkin. It's time for a change, ground up.

-- Adam Curtis of Trenton

Don't sign anyone over 25.

-- Jeff McGlynn of Timmins

Speed, speed and more team speed. How could JFJ not see how woefully S..L..O..W this team is? Tucker, Gill, Antropov and anyone else who can't keep up has to go.

-- Neville Pereira of Markham

Trade away every player over 25 to shoot for Stamkos and Tavares and begin building around them.

-- Lincoln Ciemny of Thunder Bay

Buy Richard Peddie and his scouting staff one-way air tickets to Cancun, Mexico. Then, retire as the Leafs' interim general manager and appoint Scotty Bowman as the new president and general manager.

-- Ramon Carluen of Scarborough

Fletcher and all Leafs fans should remember something Don Cherry said once on Hockey Night in Canada: The teams that have won the Stanley Cup always have a very large amount of Canadian heart on the teams as players. He should get lot more Canadian heart back on this team.

-- Troy MacInnis of Charlottetown

For more, visit torontosun.com/fletcher.


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