Maurice no lame duck

Paul Maurice won't be placed in a lame-duck situation if he happens to return as Leafs coach next...

Paul Maurice won't be placed in a lame-duck situation if he happens to return as Leafs coach next season. SUN MEDIA/Alex Urosevic

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:36 PM ET

Paul Maurice either will get a pink slip or a contract extension -- one of the above -- but he will not be coaching the Maple Leafs next year on the final year of his current deal.

Interim general manager Cliff Fletcher said that much yesterday in a wide-ranging interview, indicating that Maurice will not be placed in a lame-duck situation if he happens to return as Leafs coach.

"I am a firm believer that in Toronto you can't have a general manager or a coach working on the last year of his contract," Fletcher said. "It just causes too big of a frenzy. It's not worth it for anybody."

LATE JUNE

Fletcher did indicate that decisions on Maurice's future -- and that of the entire hockey operation -- will be made in late June "by whomever is in charge at that time."

"If the new general manager is on board in June, he'll make the call. I can make recommendations to that person. If the new general manager is not on board, then I assume I'll be making those decisions."

When asked his opinion of the job Maurice has done, Fletcher said all decisions about hockey personnel, including coaches and scouting and managerial staff would be made by late June.

"Everything has to be looked at," said Fletcher, who is just 16 games into his evaluation of the team. "We're going to consider everything. Are there players to buy out? Are there players to move? We have to put a list together to determine what we want to build around."

At the absolute top of Fletcher's list is goaltender Vesa Toskala.

"It is the one area I really don't have to concern myself with," Fletcher said. "We have a No. 1 goalie in place. When this team is contending for a Stanley Cup, he can be that No. 1 goaltender. I saw a lot of him in San Jose. And I've always liked him."

Fletcher does admit slight concern over the conflicting agendas of the Leafs -- both the team and the organization -- as the final 17 games of the season approach. Ideally, it would be in the club's best interest to bottom out and get the best possible draft pick. Yet the opposite seems to be occurring as the Leafs may make an unlikely push to be a playoff team. And someone such as Maurice is coaching for both his job and reputation.

"Listen, coaches want to win, the players have pride. They want to make the playoffs," Fletcher said. "But as I've said before, if we're three points out or three points in, we still have a job to do here. We have to move this team in the right direction.

"Whether we're drafting first, second or 15th, I'm confident we're going to get a really good hockey player. Look at New Jersey. In back-to-back drafts, they drafted late and got (Zach) Parise and (Travis) Zajac. In one draft, Anaheim took (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry in the first round and those weren't early picks. We have to take advantage of where we are and make it work for us."

BUYOUT OPTIONS

Fletcher is looking closely at the possibility of buying out the contracts of some players, although he wouldn't give any indication as to which ones. There are two possible buyout scenarios for the Leafs. One involves buying out players on June 30. In that case, the team would owe the player two-thirds of the existing dollars on his contract. The salary cap hit, however, would be calculated over twice the length of the remaining years on the contract and the dollar figure on the cap would not be the remaining contract size, but the average of each year of that contract.

For example, if the Leafs were to buy out Mark Bell's final year, they would have to pay the winger $1.66 million US over two years. The cap hit over the same time, however, would be $666,000 a year for two years, because the cap figure is based on the average salary of the entire term of the contract.

In other words, if the Leafs sign a player for $1 million who they believe is better than Bell, they actually save money by buying out the winger.

The second option doesn't affect the salary cap. Come October, the Leafs can send any player they choose to the minor leagues. In doing so, they must pay that player in full. But, in using that method, there is no salary cap hit at all.

"Both remain options for us," Fletcher said.

Again, much of that will depend on the new GM's thoughts on the situation.

The Leafs, like every team, can go 10% over the salary cap in the summer, and, with the cap expected to move to $54 million, that takes their spending ability to close to $60 million.

With buyouts expected, and the $40 million already committed to next season expected to be slightly reduced, that leaves the club with almost $20 million in possible spending money.

"We will not have cap issues," Fletcher said. "I have pinpointed areas that definitely need to be changed."

He didn't indicate whether coaching was one of those areas.


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