Front office can only watch

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

EDMONTON -- When the Maple Leafs hire their new president, whomever that might be, what will happen to the existing brass such as Cliff Fletcher and Joe Nieuwendyk?

According to Richard Peddie, president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., their collective fates will be in the hands of the incoming boss.

"When we hired those (front office) individuals, we made it clear that anyone would respect the abilities of these highly regarded people," Peddie said yesterday. "But it's ultimately up to the person coming in to make those decisions."

Peddie obviously could not identify Brian Burke by name as the potentially incoming prez/GM, but expect it to happen soon if all goes well.

Asked about the distractions this Burke speculation is having on his team, Fletcher sternly replied: "It's my job to see they stay focused."

That might be difficult, if yesterday was an example. As the Leafs bus was approaching the arena for the morning skate, Luke Schenn tapped a team executive on the shoulder and asked: "What's going on with all this stuff?"

Fletcher has done an admirable job in the eyes of his peers around the NHL. Handcuffed a year ago by the no-trade contracts of the Muskoka Five, he nevertheless slogged through the summer acquiring the likes of Mikhail Grabovski, Mike Van Ryn, Niklas Hagman and trading up to draft Schenn.

SURPRISING TEAM

"Whatever happens there, Fletcher deserves to be treated with class," an executive with an Eastern Conference team said. "No one gave these guys a chance, yet (the Leafs) are one of the surprises of the league. He had no cards to work with because all those guys would not waive their no-trades a year ago."

Nieuwendyk is one of the brightest up-and-coming executives in the NHL. He left the Florida Panthers over the summer to join the Leafs, where he now serves as an assistant GM.

"I thought that if I wanted to be a GM down the road, what better way than to learn than to hang around with such a respected man like Cliff Fletcher?" Nieuwendyk said.

"I never looked at it in terms of (a new president/GM eventually coming in). I looked at it as an opportunity to be part of an organization that I enjoyed playing for.

"Whatever happens or is going to happen, is not necessarily going to affect me."

Burke could take over as president and allow Fletcher to finish out the season as GM. Fletcher is on record as saying he does not want the job long-term.

Peddie, meanwhile, remains mum on the hunt for the new head man.

"We are not commenting on the search," he said.


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