Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fletch Lives!

Much like Chevy Chase's ill conceived sequel to Fletch, Cliff Fletcher' second stint as GM for the Maple Leafs doesn't appear to be over any time soon. Richard Peddie, President and CEO of MLSE is on record as saying Fletcher will be GM through next season. It's not such a bad idea to have a plan in place before the draft and Fletcher is a good hockey man but I have to wonder. is this a vote of confidence for Cliff's rebuilding plan? Is it an organization willing to take your money but waste an entire year waiting for Brian Burke's contract to expire in Anaheim? It could be one last ditch effort to frustrate the Ducks in to letting Burke out of his contract. By saying this story won't go away for another year, Toronto is hoping the Ducks will want to move on from Burke and look towards their own future.

However muddy things look from the outside, the Maple Leafs seem to have a plan in place. The hiring of Ron Wilson sends a message to the veteran players; a management group is in place and changes will be made. Wilson was brought in for his reputation of working well with younger players, which according to Fletcher " The Leafs are clearly headed in that direction." - Wilson Press Conference -

Coach Wilson views the Leafs as a team in transition and he wants to be part of the change. Reunited with former Sharks net minder Vesa Toskala, Wilson stressed a commitment to defense. Singling out Strohlman's play at the World Championship and not mentioning Brian McCabe who many believe is awaiting a trade to Long Island, may have been a sign of what's to come between now and July the first.

In the Q and A portion of Wilson's introductory press conference the inevitable question came from a TSN reporter - you're on the record about the Canadian media being negative, why would you come to Toronto? Perhaps knowing this question was coming, Wilson had his Canadian passport on hand to prove his dual citizenship. Citing Pat Quinn as a long time mentor and Paul Maurice as a close friend, Wilson discussed his love of the Leaf logo and stated he had every reason to be there. It was perhaps a little overdone to have his passport with him. I was willing to believe him without the props. Other coaches though have pledged the same love and not gotten the job done. The league needs a strong Leaf Nation as it moves forward in the years to come.

So how does a guy from Windsor become coach of USA Hockey? Former Penguin coach Bob Johnson. The much admired Johnson offered Wilson a chance to see the world playing hockey. There was no team Canada at the time so Wilson played for the Americans. There was simply a chance to play hockey, it was not a snub at Canada.

A week ago I thought Toronto was in deep, deep trouble. Now, although not perfect, there is at least a sense of direction with Wilson's four year contract. I had a feeling last year when Cliff Fletcher sat down for the first time with the Toronto media freshly tanned that he might be here on an extended visit. Next on the agenda is a meeting with Sundin, so I'm sure by next week it'll all be up in the air again.

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