Admit it, Fletch lives with Leafs

STEVE SIMMONS

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

Cliff Fletcher did more than his job.

He wasn't the senile old man some painted him to be. He wasn't out of touch.

He wasn't out of step.

If his time as Maple Leaf caretaker is about to end, he should be congratulated for all he managed in so short a time, with all kinds of obstacles in front of him.

He salary-dumped Bryan McCabe for Mike Van Ryn, and Van Ryn looks like the better player.He bought out Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft. He waived Mark Bell. He hired Ron Wilson to coach (other coaching hirings -- see Tampa and Ottawa -- haven't gone so well.) He brought depth to the Leaf front office.

He moved up in the draft for Luke Schenn and was criticized for sending a second-round pick to the Habs to acquire Mikhail Grabovski, who as of last night had more goals than any Montreal player.

In between, he signed the impressive free agent Niklas Hagman, may have overpaid for the steady Jeff Finger and probably underpaid for defender Jonas Frogren.

And that doesn't count what he could have done had his no-trade players agreed to be dealt. He would have had Jeff Carter from Philadelphia instead of Tomas Kaberle; He would have had Christopher Higgins and draft picks from Montreal. He would have had whatever San Jose was offering from Pavel Kubina.

Fletcher earned his money and our admiration. He inherited a salary-cap mess and will pass on flexibility to the apparent incoming boss, Brian Burke.

This may not be Burke's kind of team -- too many Europeans, for one thing -- but it is a place upon which to build. And that, from the beginning, was Fletcher's mandate.

THIS AND THAT

John Ferguson is now telling people that Richard Peddie reneged on a promise to extend his contract at the end of the 2007 season, which is an old story, but worthy of revisiting. If after missing the playoffs twice in a row, Peddie was ready to re-up Ferguson. Doesn't that again display how out of touch he is as a sporting figure? Peddie should disqualify himself from any decision of personnel or management that involves any of the teams under the wing of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. Which means he should go nowhere near the Burke negotiations ... So the question is, did Rick Tocchet have the over-under on number of games Barry Melrose would last in Tampa? ... The challenge for Jason Blake: How to be more annoying on the ice and less annoying off it ... Johan Franzen is the best-kept secret in hockey: The big Wing has scored 36 goals in last 43 games, including playoffs. Those are Phil Esposito-like numbers ... Mats Sundin doesn't carry around any Barry Bonds kind of baggage, but wouldn't it be fun if Sundin announced he was ready to play and nobody showed any interest?

HEAR AND THERE

The Argos may have parted company badly with Kent Austin, but it didn't prevent them from trying to find out if he was interested in coaching the team next season. They called. He said no thanks ... If I'm J.P. Ricciardi, my first calls in free agency would go to a trio of starting pitchers -- Ben Sheets, Brad Penny and Derek Lowe -- none of whom have A.J. Burnett's arm, but they may possess some qualities Burnett isn't known for ... I miss Chuck Swirsky. I miss the fun and the quirkiness he brought to Raptors' games on TV. Games now sound like informercials ... No one is more surprised by the progress of Matt Stajan than his own coach, who, frankly, didn't see it coming ... There is nothing pretty about Anthony Calvillo: He just gets it done ... Who calls the plays for the Edmonton Eskimos? A key third-and-four situation and they're throwing the bomb. Same with going for a late two-point conversion. Play selection and lousy special team coverage cost them badly in the Eastern final.

SCENE AND HEARD

Don't know what's worse, Manny Ramirez as a free agent or Scott Boras representing him. Word is, Boras is asking for a minimum five-year deal, which is a long time for anyone to put up with Manny being Manny ... Under the department of big bomb file comedian Gerry Dee, who appeared at the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Glenn Anderson was funny. Bill Hay was almost funny. The comedian was misplaced ... Shaquille O'Neal didn't care much about playing for the Orlando Magic, but the word is, he wants to own them now ... Have to believe Ryan Hollweg's hit on Alex Pietrangelo is one of the reasons Pietrangelo is back playing in the OHL with Mississauga.

AND ANOTHER THING

Geniuses like Al Strachan claim Burke inherited his Stanley Cup champion in Anaheim. For the record, Burke replaced all six defenceman, nine of his 12 forwards, including his top five scorers, hired Randy Carlyle as coach in the two post-lockout seasons leading to the Cup. If that's inheriting, the Leafs should hope he inherits here ... Larry Taylor, who ran back two return touchdowns for the Als yesterday, led South Dakota in rushing a year ago. The year before, Stefan Logan of the B.C. Lions, led South Dakota in rushing. If I'm a CFL team, and this is the kind of player they're producing, I'm hanging out in South Dakota ... Kurt Warner, who looks great throwing to Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in Arizona, would have been a terrific CFL quarterback ... Born on this day, one of my favourite Penguins ... I love Omar Vizquel's game, but wondering if there is anything in the free agent shortstop ... And hey, whatever became of Chris Govedaris?


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