No easy answers for Leafs

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:12 AM ET

Cliff Fletcher says he won't be interim general manager of the Maple Leafs in September, meaning the search for a hockey office saviour likely is to wrap up no later than late July or early August.

"You can speculate, but I'm not putting a target on the wall for people to count down," Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., said yesterday. "Cliff had told me from the outset that this was a job for younger people."

Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke, who had distanced himself from Leafs talk all winter, caused ripples of excitement last week by upgrading his status to "remote." But expect Peddie and sports lawyer Gord Kirke to wait until all playoff teams end their season before discontinuing their search.

The list of candidates potentially increased by 14 yesterday when that many NHL teams absorbed playoff elimination. That includes the Leafs, but in answering a question about coach Paul Maurice's status at training camp next season, the 72-year-old Fletcher announced he would be in his senior adviser's role by then.

"I started in 1956 with the Canadiens and it was (fitting) my last game as an NHL GM should be there," he said of Saturday's regular-season finale at the Bell Centre.

But Fletcher and Maurice have at least four months of caretaking ahead, analyzing the failures contributing to a third consecutive non-playoff season. They'll be scouting the NHL playoffs, the Marlies, the world hockey championship, Memorial Cup and readying for the June draft in Ottawa.

Before July 1, decisions on which players to trade, buy out or cut loose will be made and then replacements will be sought when free agency begins July 1.

"I hope to save (his successor) six months of work," Fletcher said.

But he painted a potentially bleak picture for the next couple of seasons, acknowledging the only proven long-term success in the salary cap era will be building through the draft.

"If the NHL were a fantasy league, I know a lot of moves we'd make," Fletcher said. "It didn't happen overnight in Calgary (and) it's a different kind of rebuilding job than (turning around the 1990s Leafs). There is no timetable, it could be long, could be short. The most important thing is integrating the draft with free agency. We have eight picks in the first 130 this year."


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