TORONTO - The Toronto Maple Leafs want to hire the right person to fill their vacant general manager's position and they're willing to wait to get him.
Unable to lure away the top candidates on their short list, the Leafs have decided to keep Cliff Fletcher in the interim GM role likely through next season.
"Some people think hiring senior positions can be done quickly and easily," Richard Peddie, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. "It's not that way in any industry. In this case, we did a very thorough analysis."
Peddie said the GM search committee, which includes himself and Toronto sports lawyer Gord Kirke, did its due diligence in compiling a list of candidates but discovered none were available at this time.
"We talked to everyone from league officials, to agents, to some media, to peers, to people in the industry, to see if there was some kind of consensus," said Peddie. "And while the sample size was huge, no one got unanimous marks. ..
"With all of that data, we identified who we thought were the top candidates," added Peddie. "Then we started asking for permission and started finding out they were under contract and that the free agency class in the spring of 2009 was pretty good. So it's unlikely Cliff will leave any time soon."
One GM whose contract expires after next season is Brian Burke, who has long been rumoured as MLSE's top candidate. The decision to hold off on the GM hire until next summer will only fuel that media speculation.
"There's a lot of speculation on Brian and you can actually have that speculation on a lot of people that are out there," said Peddie. "He seems to be the one with the most of it. I joked the other day with someone that Kevin Bacon has six degrees of separation, I think Brian Burke has three degrees. Him and (Devils GM) Lou Lamoriello. You can get everyone back to Lou and Burkey within about three moves.
"So let them (media) speculate. But right now we are following the rules. We have been in close contact with the league so always tell them what we're doing. And we're going to wait."
Other top candidates believed to be on Toronto's radar are Ken Holland in Detroit, Doug Risebrough in Minnesota, Doug Wilson in San Jose, Darcy Regier in Buffalo, David Poile in Nashville and Jim Rutherford in Carolina. Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill is also believed to be of interest.
Fletcher, meanwhile, is more than willing to stay on and help out.
"Originally I signed a 19-month contract with the Leafs going through September of next year," Fletcher said Wednesday from Arizona. "In the last month they've been having discussions whether moving forward it made sense to wait for the right person - to wait for one of their top choices to become available.
"I just told them, 'Hey look, I'll stay on as long as I have to until you have that person and when you get that person I'll step aside.' That could be September, it could be the middle of the season, or the end of the season."
In the meantime, there's business at hand with next week's NHL entry draft in Ottawa, the June 15-30 buyout period and the July 1 start of free agency.
"We definitely have our ducks in order," said Fletcher. "We've been in preparation ever since the regular season ended. We're ready and we're fully aware of the time period from now to the middle of July is critical for the team.
"There could be possible trades, I know we're having talks with teams now, although just preliminary. We're preparing for the draft and we've already put a strategy in place on how we'll move forward come July 1. So it's going to be an intense period of time but we're moving ahead."
The 72-year-old Fletcher was hired as the team's interim GM in January after the firing of John Ferguson and was to become a consultant once his successor was found.
It is Fletcher's second go-around as Leafs GM after building teams that went to back-to-back conference finals in 1993 and '94.