Mo stays, for now

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:52 AM ET

Paul Maurice is not on the verge of being fired as coach of the Maple Leafs. At least not yet.

Interim general manager Cliff Fletcher confirmed yesterday that he will not make the call on Maurice's future, that he will leave that decision to the incoming general manager, assuming the hiring of his successor will be accomplished in due course.

"All the coaches are under contract for another year," Fletcher said in a wide- ranging interview yesterday. "We're not going to do anything now. Because you don't know what the (incoming) manager thinks of any of the coaching staff so you want him to be able to make that call."

The status quo with the coaching staff -- after the Leafs finished out of the playoffs for the third straight year, and finished near the bottom of the NHL in goals against and penalty killing (areas a coach can impact) -- has no bearing on the roster or personnel changes Fletcher hopes to accomplish between now and the beginning of July.

"For us to become a better hockey team, we need at least a half dozen changes, if not more," Fletcher said. "Whether or not you can accomplish that in one off-season, I don't know.

"We need to substantially change the makeup of our team. All of this takes time. You have to make one move before you make your second. You can't get ahead of yourself.

"I can assure you of one thing, we are very cognizant of the fact of how this team has performed and how it's totally unacceptable. That's going to change, believe me."

To date, Fletcher has talked a better game than he has managed. Part of it was the no-trade roadblocks he was forced to deal with. Part of it was method of attacking those roadblocks. Either way, not a whole lot has been done since he replaced John Ferguson as GM.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't have all kinds of plans. If you go back to Fletcher's first term of employment with the Leafs, within a year of being on the job, he hired Pat Burns to coach, traded for Doug Gilmour and completely altered the culture of his hockey club. He was impatient then; he is impatient now.

But with salary-cap issues, a weak free-agency class, a lack of prospects, too many bad contracts, and a roster of players that have been over-exposed and over-analyzed, the challenge is far greater than anything he has faced before.

Yet it must be done. Without emotion. Without sentimentality. And in this, without regard to what Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment must pay to rid itself of terrible contracts.

Fletcher wasn't outside the Maple Leafs dressing room as his players came out yesterday, one by one, talking hockey nonsense. The same things they said last year after missing the playoffs. The same things they said the year before that. But he been around this team long enough to know he doesn't want to hear that blather anymore.

About what a great bunch of guys are here. About what great leadership this team has. About how much they love playing in Toronto and are honoured to be Maple Leafs. About how they don't want to go anywhere.

Everybody, if you ask them, is part of the solution, not the problem, and hopes to be back.

"I know exactly how I'd like to see this team look come opening day in October," Fletcher said. "It's one thing to know that. It's another to accomplish that. It requires patience and there are so many other market factors.

"I'll be honest, this is going to be a slow, difficult process. We do have some good young players who have some upside and we do have a goaltender. But we have a long, long way to go. A long way."

A little luck tonight in the draft lottery is a good place to start. After that, Fletcher needs to find homes for Bryan McCabe, Darcy Tucker, maybe Pavel Kubina, Kyle Wellwood, Jason Blake (if that's possible), Mark Bell, Andrew Raycroft, to name a few. That's his starting point.

"I expect the trade market to be a little more active this year because the quality of free agents isn't anywhere near where it was a year ago," Fletcher said. "We start from there. Then we'll see what happens."


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