Leafs coach will know score

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Surely, the Maple Leafs don't mean to lure an A-list coach here, then saddle him with an American Hockey League roster, with no Mats Sundin or at least one or two decent free agents.

But that's what Ron Wilson, or any incoming bench boss, will face if interim general manager Cliff Fletcher can't re-sign Sundin or back up his big talk of wheeling and dealing in the next four or five weeks.

Fletcher, who put his coaching search on hold this week until Wilson responds to a multi-year contract offer, yesterday refused to say what shade of picture he painted to him of the Leafs during their meetings and arena tour on Monday and Tuesday.

"We discussed player personnel and Ron already knew our team well," Fletcher said. "He knows the options we have.

"There's really nothing I can say publicly about our plans, either today or leading up to the draft. There is no benefit."

Fletcher's renovation schedule begins with drumming up trades between now and the June 20 draft. That overlaps with the two-week contract buyout period beginning June 15, with most believing winger Darcy Tucker the likeliest to be cashed in.

With slim chance to get an impact player in the draft, Fletcher would then concentrate on July 1 free agency, possibly with several million dollars extra to play with if Sundin bolts.

Fletcher expects the captain's decision before the draft. Sundin's agent, J.P. Barry, continues to say his client will reserve judgement on returning until the GM and coaching situations are clarified, though Fletcher likely will stay as GM until the autumn and Wilson, should he accept the post, can be rubber-stamped once the Cup final ends.

Salary will be the ultimate determining factor for Sundin, who is looking for $7 million to $8 million US.

"Of course it would be difficult to fill the void Mats would leave on the ice," Fletcher said. "On the other hand, we'd have to move forward with younger players."

Fletcher wouldn't speculate who would be given the captaincy that Sundin has worn for more than a decade --whether he'd seek a free agent with leadership qualities or pick an existing Leaf, perhaps current alternates Tomas Kaberle or Bryan McCabe.

"That's something that evolves as games are played," Fletcher said.

While Wilson is squarely in his sights, Fletcher acknowledged he could yet choose another opening around the NHL.

"If that is the case, there are a number of quality coaches out there," Fletcher said.

John Tortorella officially declared for a job yesterday.

"I don't have an agent, I don't know how to go out and push myself on people," he said following his long anticipated firing from the Tampa Bay Lightning. "I have a year on my contract, I want to go back to work, (but) I won't be pounding the phone to sell myself."

At least one team has contacted Lightning GM Jay Feaster for permission to speak to Tortorella. Southeast Division rivals Florida and Atlanta already have been mentioned as possible new posts.

While it appears the incoming owners in Tampa want American hockey media darling Barry Melrose to coach, Tortorella was quick to recommend his assistant, Mike Sullivan.

"Look under your nose, Mike is a tremendous coach," Tortorella said. "No one speaks of him and that boggles my mind."

Tortorella was glad to be put out of his misery after weeks of twisting in the wind. But it was hard to walk away from the team he helped build into the 2004 Stanley Cup champions.

"It was a comedy show when we started," he said.

Tortorella had a battle of wills with star players such as Vinny Lecavalier, but with Feaster's support, survived to win.

"I've got this reputation that I'm a lunatic and I kick around people," he said. "But there has to be accountability. You won't always be holding hands in a love-fest. People are afraid of conflict, where I think it's a good thing."


Videos

Photos