TORONTO – Cliff Fletcher will be on a plane Wednesday and he says it will be headed south, not north.
Friends, family and media filled up his voice mail after a report Monday night said the Toronto Maple Leafs had contacted Fletcher about taking over the team as an interim GM for the remainder of the season.
“I don’t know where these rumours are originating from but I am definitely heading off to Mexico tomorrow,” he told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.
Fletcher, who was getting ready to go on vacation with his wife, said he wouldn’t comment any further.
“They (the Leafs) have a management team in place,” he said. “It would be inappropriate for me to say anything.”
The 72-year-old Fletcher would not confirm the Leafs contacted him but a source told The Canadian Press that communication had indeed taken place between the two parties.
Current Leafs GM John Ferguson is under fire with his NHL club free-falling down the Eastern Conference standings with only two wins in its last 13 games before Tuesday night’s affair with the visiting Carolina Hurricanes. The Leafs are in danger of missing the playoffs in three consecutive seasons for the first time in 80 years.
Speculation is swirling that Ferguson, whose contract expires at the end of the season, is working on borrowed time with his employers at Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment working the phones around the league looking for a solution.
Fletcher spent seven seasons as an executive with the Phoenix Coyotes before being fired last season along with GM Mike Barnett.
The Coyotes are still paying Fletcher for this season and next on his old contract – no small factor. If the Leafs only want Fletcher for a few months, they’ll need to make it worth his while given what the Coyotes still owe him until June 2009.
If Fletcher was brought in his role would likely be that of a caretaker GM while MLSE tried to find a more permanent replacement. Most of the bigger names, such as Ken Holland of Detroit, Jim Rutherford of Carolina or Brian Burke of Anaheim, wouldn’t leave their teams until the off-season – if at all.
But in the meantime there’s work to be done, chiefly the possible trade of captain Mats Sundin, an unrestricted free agent at season’s end who controls his fate with a no-trade clause. Ironically, it’s Fletcher who brought Sundin to Toronto in a June 1994 trade that saw Wendel Clark going to Quebec as part of the blockbuster deal.
Fletcher, a Montreal native and Hockey Hall of Famer, was GM of the Leafs from 1991 to ’97 and oversaw a revival of the Original Six franchise, his blockbuster trade for Doug Gilmour and back-to-back trips to the conference final in 1993 and ’94 the highlights of a successful tenure. He was fired in 1997.
He was also GM of the Calgary Flames during the organization’s first 19 years in the NHL and built the Flames’ one and only Stanley Cup champion in 1989.