Search a 'Cliffhanger'

Cliff Fletcher has suspended the search for a new general manager for the Leafs. SUN MEDIA/Mark...

Cliff Fletcher has suspended the search for a new general manager for the Leafs. SUN MEDIA/Mark O'Neill

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

Richard Peddie snipped off Cliff Fletcher's interim general manager tag yesterday, saying the Maple Leafs had begun shifting their search for a new hockey boss to "the robust free-agent class" of executives in the summer of 2009.

Prominent in that latter group is Brian Burke of the Anaheim Ducks, though, coincidentally, names such as Darcy Regier will be available next year, as well.

Peddie, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., one half of the GM search committee with sports lawyer Gord Kirke, was asked if their task was now on the back burner, with Fletcher making every key decision pertaining to the 2008-09 NHL season during the next three weeks.

"Gord and I did the due diligence, did analysis, spoke to a number of people and a trend developed that the best people are already signed," Peddie told Sun Media. "There have been reports that we've contacted other teams seeking permission (to talk) ... we've said all along that we'd be patient.

"At this stage, it definitely looks like it will take longer, maybe until next spring."

The name most linked with the job is Burke, who has been unable to wiggle out of the last year of his contract with the Ducks.

"Much like free agency with players, there is a robust free-agent class of executives (in 2009)," Peddie said.

That would include Burke and Regier, but not the firmly rooted Ken Holland and Jim Nill, the two men at the top of the Detroit Red Wings, which Peddie and Kirke call the model franchise for the Leafs.

Peddie agreed that the rush to bring someone in for this season has passed. Fletcher has hired a top coach in Ron Wilson and, within three weeks, the junior draft, contract buyouts and the best free-agent buys all will be settled.

"I don't go around addressing Cliff as interim GM and I wouldn't put that title on his business card," Peddie said with a laugh. "There was no guarantee we could get the person we wanted and that's the luxury of having Cliff here (on a 19-month contract expiring next summer).

"I read that Cliff is supposedly campaigning for the full-time job, but he has told me he plans to be touring Italy by next summer."

The 72-year-old Fletcher certainly was in command mode this week, hiring Wilson, announcing he wants a new player personnel director to replace Mike Penny, and another hockey executive to join Jeff Jackson and Doug Gilmour. The Wings' current operation features Jim Devellano as senior vice-president, Holland as VP/GM, Steve Yzerman as VP and Nill as assistant GM.

Peddie defended himself against charges of back-tracking on big talk that his hockey guru would have autonomy in all hirings.

"In business, a new president will often come in and inherit the vice-president and those under him," Peddie said. "A good example might be getting Ron Wilson, who has impeccable credentials and would be (valued) by anyone coming in."

Fletcher says it is business as usual for him.

"My contract is as a GM or consultant," he said. "When (he and Peddie) were discussing the possibility I said: 'Look, I'll run the team until such time as you find your guy'. But as you can tell by recent developments, I'm running it the only way I know how."


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