Let the housecleaning begin

The Leafs Cliff Fletcher, formally introduced the teamís new head coach, Ron Wilson at a news...

The Leafs Cliff Fletcher, formally introduced the teamís new head coach, Ron Wilson at a news conference. (Mark OíNeill/Sun Media)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 11:55 AM ET

With the new coach in place and Cliff Fletcher entrenched as the full-time general manager -- at least until Brian Burke arrives, according to the popular belief floating around town -- the curtain has been raised for the official housecleaning of the Maple Leafs roster.

"If you are going to do something, now is the time," Fletcher said yesterday from Arizona. "A lot of trade discussions have already taken place."

A month from now, the likes of Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe and even Mats Sundin -- the team's veteran core dating back to the Pat Quinn era -- all could be wearing different NHL jerseys. There are rumblings that McCabe would be willing to waive his no-trade clause in order to go to the New York Islanders on Long Island, the site of his off-season home.

"Hopefully, our team is going to look substantially different," Fletcher said. "If we can bring in at least five or six players, new faces, that would be good."

According to Fletcher, one of the spots reserved for newcomers already is occupied by promising young forward Nikolai Kulemin, who has been playing in the Russian elite league. Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin, Kulemin's one-time line- mate in Russia, predicts a bright NHL future for the Leafs prospect.

With tomorrow marking the beginning of the window in which teams can buy out players, Fletcher expects the franchise will receive a significant facelift the next four weeks as he tackles several relevant issues.

THE SUNDIN SAGA

Nicklas Lidstom would love to see Sundin in Detroit. Recent articles out of Montreal suggest the Leafs captain is a legitimate candidate to land with the Canadiens, with one story saying that his various business interests in Canada would make Montreal a better fit than Motown.

Where will Sundin land? Even his agent, J.P. Barry, said yesterday he does not know what the big Swede's plans are.

As one person close to Sundin said yesterday: "Mats is a good poker player. He is hard to read."

Fletcher wants to re-sign Mats and is willing to give him a no-trade deal before he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. To do that, the Leafs likely would need to up his 2007-08 salary of $5.5 million US.

"I've been exchanging calls with J.P.," Fletcher said. "We're on top of this. The rest is up to Mats."

Said Red Wings star Henrik Zetterberg of his fellow Swede: "My gut says he'll be back with the Leafs."

BUYOUT BLITZ?

If Tucker and goaltender Andrew Raycroft are among the targets for buyouts, it will not happen until after the entry draft next weekend.

"It will probably be June 27 or 28," Fletcher said, refusing to identify any candidates and adding that he will attempt to move players before buying them out. Tucker's agent, Carlos Sosa, said his client will not waive his no-trade clause under such a scenario.

FREE AGENT FRENZY

Buying 30-something free agents is not part of the plan.

"We are not interested in older free agents, guys in the 32, 33 or older range," said Fletcher, eyeing the beginning of the free agent period July 1.

Fletcher said the market will dictate who might be out of the Leafs' reach.

"There are two blue-chip defencemen out there, Brian Campbell and Wade Redden, and 29 teams looking at them. Is that realistic?" he said, adding he would like to strengthen the team at centre but noting "there are no real blue-chippers."

DRAFT DODGERS

Going into the June 20-21 entry draft in Ottawa, Fletcher already has been in discussions about moving both up and down from their No. 7 slot.

"We'll explore all options," Fletcher said. "If we really like a guy and can move up to get him, we'll look at it."

The top of the draft is heavy on defencemen, but league sources say the Leafs are intrigued by Nikita Filatov, the skilled winger who led Russia in scoring with nine points in seven games at the world junior championship.

Either way, Fletcher said the Leafs will pick the best available player as opposed to addressing a specific position.

"If we stay put, that's fine because we will get a blue- chipper at seven," he said. "A lot of years, you can't say that."


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