Nonis could work well with seasoned GM

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

David Nonis will be interviewed by Toronto's search committee today, but for which position?

The youthful Nonis (41) is not the proven Stanley Cup champion that Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. specified it wanted as president/general manager, having just lost his only NHL job as GM of the Vancouver Canucks.

But he's considered an excellent number cruncher and contract specialist and could work in tandem with someone else the Leafs have in mind. While the Leafs have been told to steer clear of Brian Burke while he's still tied to the Anaheim Ducks, the hiring of Nonis in Toronto would put Anaheim owner Henry Samueli in a fix.

Rather than endure a season with Burke's name linked to the Leafs, he'll either have to sweeten the pot on Burke's long-discussed extension or give in and let him talk to Toronto.

The committee, consisting of MLSEL president Richard Peddie, sports lawyer Gordon Kirke and advisor Cliff Fletcher, are completing the process of identifying top candidates, but have now hit some roadblocks.

Detroit and San Jose have not given Toronto permission to speak to Ken Holland and Doug Wilson, respectively, and, while on Hockey Night In Canada on Saturday, Sun Media columnist Scott Morrison said the Leafs were told via a third party that New Jersey, Montreal and Minnesota would not give them access to Lou Lamoriello, Bob Gainey and Doug Risebrough, though interest in the Leafs on the part of the three GMs doesn't appear to be mutual.

Sports agent Don Meehan, mentioned frequently as a candidate for team president, would only say yesterday he has not been approached.

Nonis is also believed to be on the Atlanta Thrashers' radar, amid a series of rumours pertaining to GM and coaching vacancies around the league.

HULKING D-MAN IN MIX

The Leafs' summer free-agent hunt could be shaken up by the inclusion of Blake Wheeler, a 6-foot-5 defenceman chosen fifth overall by Phoenix in the 2004 draft.

Wheeler never signed with the Coyotes within the four-year window of the new collective bargaining agreement because of salary disputes with the club, and the late-blooming 210-pounder has chosen not to return for his senior year at the University of Minnesota.

He served the Coyotes with a 30-day notice last week that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent. Wheeler joined the Coyotes when Cliff Fletcher was their executive vice-president of hockey operations.

"I can't comment on players under contract to other teams," Fletcher said yesterday, though there is speculation Wheeler's agent is just playing hardball with the Coyotes and doesn't wish to move.

Wheeler, who is eligible for a two-year entry-level deal, played on the Gophers' 2005-06 squad with Phil Kessel. In 127 games with Minnesota, Wheeler scored 42 goals and collected 96 points.


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