GM will be given full autonomy

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

Richard Peddie, accused of ongoing board meddling in hockey affairs with the Maple Leafs, loudly protested his innocence last night and promised the man in charge of the incoming regime would have Bryan Colangelo-type autonomy.

Peddie, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., replaced general manager John Ferguson with Cliff Fletcher on Tuesday, but immediately caught flak for putting himself on a two-man search committee for a permanent replacement. Coupled with his perceived board-level feud with chairman Larry Tanenbaum and Peddie's refusal to let Ferguson make significant moves in the latter stages of his tenure without approval, gave the public an impression Peddie can't keep his fingers out of the pie.

The potential Mats Sundin trade and the firing of coach John Ferguson were issues that Peddie publicly said would have to go through the board.

"All of our (sports execs) have had autonomy and the new hockey man will have the same autonomy as (Raptors president and general manager) Bryan Colangelo," Peddie said of the latter's mandate to fix the basketball team last year. "John had that same autonomy, but I think he needed the coaching and the confidence (to assert it).

"When I made the statement about a Mats trade two weeks ago, it had become very apparent what the situation was becoming with John. Frankly, I'm glad he did not ask the board, as it was a very delicate time.

"If it were a Chris Bosh trade we were talking about, the board would expect to be given the chance to ask some questions about player X and player Y, but would okay it if Bryan were for it."

Both Peddie and Tanenbaum went to great lengths the past two days to play down talk that the chairman wanted Ferguson out and Scotty Bowman in as senior adviser last summer.

Both have denied their differences have had an effect on the team and the story that they had turned down Ferguson's requests for rebuilding plans.

"That's up there with alligators living in the sewer ... a myth," Peddie told the Fan 590.

During his Fan interview, Peddie revealed the new hockey man will have the option of taking the club presidency and hiring a general manager to work under him, or hold both titles.

He hinted most of the big names mentioned in the upcoming search were legitimate, but declared a news blackout from this point on.

The favourites, assuming they leave their current positions with other teams, include Jim Rutherford, David Poile and the most intriguing of all, Bowman.

"I imagine Scotty is a candidate, but we won't be reporting every day about what this person or that person is doing," Peddie said.

Peddie and sports lawyer Gordon Kirke are on the search committee, with Peddie promising to use the well-connected Fletcher as a "resource."

Fletcher has a 19-month contract to stay as interim GM well into 2008-09, if the committee takes that long to find its man.


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