Cliff Flecther was brought in to help right the ship, but the future is as unstable as ever in T.O. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
At Wednesday’s press conference announcing Paul Maurice’s dismissal as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the prevailing sentiment interim GM Cliff Fletcher attempted to sell to the media and general public was simple: all systems are normal and the team’s legion of fans shouldn’t worry themselves sick over the laborious process of putting a new management team in place.
The first part of Fletcher’s message certainly is true. However, what is considered ‘normal’ for the Leafs is not what’s considered ‘normal’ for the other 29 NHL franchises.
And that’s not a good thing.
As for the fans’ angst level – well, let’s just say you trust this particular ownership group at your own peril. It has made a handful of similar assurances since the team was pried out of Harold Ballard’s cold, dead hands, but the only area in which it excels – besides making enough money to fund several small-to-medium-sized guerilla wars – is leaping between management philosophies faster than your average NHL on-ice shift.
One day, Fletcher says he’ll leave Maurice’s fate as Leafs coach in the hands of the team’s next GM. Another day, he says time’s a-passin’ too quickly and it’s time to grease up the guillotine.
One day, team president Richard Peddie outlines a list of qualities (i.e. a veteran GM and proven champion-builder) the team will demand for Fletcher’s successor. Another day, there are rumors of the Leafs asking permission to speak with former Canucks boss Dave Nonis, a man who showed he was competent in the role, but someone who nobody could argue meets Peddie’s publicly-stated criteria.
Another day, another message dropped down the memory hole and hopefully forgotten by the time the next one arrives. That’s what ‘normal’ has become to the Maple Leafs.
The follies don’t end there. According to a report in the Toronto Star, some members of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s executive board want the team’s new GM to include Tie Domi in Toronto’s reconstituted management group.
(This is the part where I’d express my incredulity at such a suggestion, but words can’t really encapsulate the degree of “Are you kidding me?”-type feelings I’m dealing with. Just imagine my eyebrows raised high enough that I had to ensure they were in accordance with local airspace regulations, and you’ll get the idea.)
If you recall, one of the main themes touted by Peddie and Fletcher since John Ferguson was fired is that the new GM will have total autonomy to run the team as he sees fit. Now the new guy will have to assimilate one of the owner’s buddies into the mix?
Ashton Kutcher and a hidden camera aren’t going to be making an appearance soon, are they?
And while I’m asking questions I don’t really need or care to receive an answer for, why has Toronto’s GM search turned into something of a scene out of Moby Dick, with a cadre of Captain Ahabs searching out a whale whose legend grows more massive with every passing day? Does any other NHL team turn their hiring procedures into a prolonged beauty pageant of sorts?
Naturally, Fletcher and his superiors at MLSE don’t see a single thing wrong with the current course of events.
“This organization is running forward full speed ahead,” he said Wednesday. “The one thing we can’t do is be spinning our wheels in sand.”
Sure they can’t. Remember, since an obscenely awful West Coast trip made by the Maple Leafs in mid-January, this team has known there are massive deficiencies that require serious and sustained attention. Yet here we are a quarter of a year later, and the only thing that’s changed is there are now even more holes to fill.
Is that normal? Perhaps in a world fueled by hallucinogens and the flimsy hopes of true believers, it is.
In Toronto, though, where the beer ain’t cheap, but the talk sure is, these bizarre episodes are standard operating procedure.
Adam Proteau is The Hockey News' online columnist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his Ask Adam feature appears Tuesdays and Fridays, and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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