The search for a new Maple Leafs general manager is heating up, but not likely to reach the boiling point until the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
David Nonis is on tap for an interview next week, previously identified candidates such as Doug Armstrong should follow, then come executives facing contract termination June 30 or who want a change of scenery.
While it has been reported that the Detroit Red Wings already rebuffed the Leafs when the latter pursued GM Ken Holland and assistant Jim Nill, a Cup victory and possible change of assignment for vice-president Steve Yzerman could see a change to that team's hierarchy. Toronto also has been denied permission to speak to San Jose's Doug Wilson.
Toronto sports lawyer Gordon Kirke, who is heading up the GM search team with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. president Richard Peddie, agreed the evaluations are entering a more serious phase.
"The process is on schedule," Kirke said yesterday, without commenting on Nonis or others. "If we want the results we're after, we can't alter that process."
That includes respecting NHL tampering rules, a tightrope Peddie and Kirke walked when sounding out Wilson and the Anaheim Ducks on Brian Burke a few weeks ago.
Speculation continues that the Leafs would use Nonis as further bait to lure Burke here in the summer of 2009 when his Anaheim contract expires.
But there is no shortage of names in the hockey world angling for an interview with the Leafs. Kirke was asked if he's having problems sorting through long shot or left-field aspirants before he can pare down a realistic list.
"The only people with those delusions are my friends and family," Kirke said with a laugh. "We're not getting any people from Mars kind of thing. We're getting respectable impressions."
Kirke said he is trying to be diplomatic in how and where the interviews are conducted, willing to travel or to host meetings depending on the situation.
"It's basically Have Gun, Will Travel for me," Kirke said. "If you start telling someone they must be here or there, you risk (alienating the person)."
Nonis' resume is similar to that of the fired John Ferguson. He's Canadian born, early 40s, educated in New England (University of Maine), an NCAA player who once worked the business side of the NHL head office and was let go after his team missed the 2008 playoffs.
Nonis played a year of pro hockey in Denmark and returned to Maine as an assistant coach. In the late 1990s, he was senior vice-president and director of hockey operations for the Canucks, replacing Burke as GM in 2004.
Where Ferguson couldn't find an effective goalie until trading for Vesa Toskala, Nonis widely was hailed for acquiring Roberto Luongo from Florida, yet failed to get the supporting cast this year for a playoff run.