Nieuwendyk brought in as GM's right-hand man

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

In recent years, the Maple Leafs not only lost their Stanley Cup edge to clubs such as the Detroit Red Wings, Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes, but watched some of the best players on those teams become front-office prodigies.

But in naming Joe Nieuwendyk as general manager Cliff Fletcher's special assistant yesterday, the Leafs have their own rising star in management to match Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Ron Francis and Al MacInnis.

Fletcher, who drafted the Whitby native from Cornell University for the Calgary Flames in 1985, laid out the 41-year-old's job description as "assisting me with everything from the big team, to the farm club to scouting."

Fletcher added Nieuwendyk has "terrific potential" to be a GM down the road, citing the recent success of Yzerman and Hull in key support roles with the Wings and Stars, respectively.

"Joe got his feet wet in Florida (as special consultant to GM Jacques Martin), he had a great playing career that didn't end that long ago and thus he'll be able to add fresh ideas and put a lot of things in perspective for us right away," Fletcher said.

"It's a good balance that we have now on our management side, an old guy like me (72), a young guy like him and a few in between."

Nieuwendyk's appointment does come at the expense of ex-Leafs captain and ex-Flames teammate Doug Gilmour, whom Fletcher says will move aside as player development advisor for a desired coaching role in the organization in the future.

Nieuwendyk resigned his position with the Panthers in April after one season, though the Leafs were denied permission to talk contract with him until after July 1.

He came to the Leafs in 2003 as a three-time Cup winner in Calgary, Dallas and New Jersey and though his magic didn't rub off here on the ice, the dream of helping his hometown team to a title has never waned.

"I did play here briefly, but I know how electric it can be every game night at the Air Canada Centre," Nieuwendyk said. "It's very exciting."

There is a risk involved, in that Nieuwendyk's multi-year contract might be in jeopardy if Fletcher is not retained beyond next July when Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. will likely be re-visiting its pursuit of Brian Burke.

"I'm not concerned," Nieuwendyk insisted. "I've only been at this a year and who better to learn from than Cliff?"

Nieuwendyk became interested in a management career after retiring as a Panther in 2006-07.

"It's not something you think about as a player, but then I kind of got involved in pro and amateur scouting meetings," he said. "But last year I was talking to Steve, Ronny, Brett and Al all the time and you see how much those guys want to stay in it and succeed."

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TEAM FLETCHER

The Maple Leafs' new-look front office:

- General manager - Cliff Fletcher

- Special assistant - Joe Nieuwendyk

- Director of Player Personnel - Al Coates/Assistant GM and Hockey Operations Director - Jeff Jackson

- Director of Player Development - Dallas Eakins

- Director of Amateur Scouting - Dave Morrison

- Head Pro Scout: Mike Penny

- Head coach - Ron Wilson

- Assistants - Keith Acton, Rob Zettler-, Tim Hunter-

- Player Development coach - Paul Dennis

- - EXPECTED TO BE CONFIRMED THIS WEEK


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