Only the Maple Leafs could make a decisive move, and firing coach Paul Maurice was certainly that, and create more confusion in the process.
Maurice had barely packed his whistles and whiteboards yesterday, iced by interim general manager Cliff Fletcher, when the guessing games began.
Did the timing of the dismissal mean the Leafs had found their general manager and were allowing him to arrive without blood on his hands? Did it mean the Leafs are so far from finding Fletcher’s successor that the Silver Fox realized he’d better do what he said he wouldn’t — and that’s fire the coach — and get on with rebuilding the hockey club himself.
Will Fletcher run the team until Brian Burke is freed up from his contract obligations in Anaheim next summer? Will the Leafs replace the current interim with another interim, say recently deposed Vancouver GM Dave Nonis, until Burke can arrive as the saviour?
And why hasn’t Burke signed that extension in Duckland yet anyway?
This much we know:
- The Leafs have indeed asked permission to speak to Nonis, who was dumped by the Canucks last month. But they haven’t spoken yet. TSN speculated Nonis would manage the Leafs for the upcoming season and then stay on in an executive role under Burke.
- Along with Maurice, given the pink slip were assistant coaches Randy Ladouceur and Dallas Eakins, though Eakins was offered a non-coaching job within the front office. Keith Acton was retained.
- Fletcher was given the go-ahead to axe Maurice, 41, owner of a 76-66-22 record behind the Toronto bench, at a scheduled meeting of the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment directors on Tuesday. His plan rubber-stamped, he fired the coach.
After that, the situation gets a little muddled.
Fletcher would not comment on the time frame for bringing in his successor, nor would Gord Kirke, the lawyer who is heading the search committee for the Leafs’ hockey poobah. Fletcher though did quash speculation that he will run the team through the upcoming season.
“I won’t be the general manager,” he said. “I’m here until the issue comes to a head and a replacement is in place, whether that’s next week or two months from now. Whatever, I’m happy to be here.”
Maurice said he was grateful the move came this early in the off-season. “I don’t think you can say you’re surprised based on how the season ended and the changes that have taken place over the last year.
You’re hopeful it doesn’t come but you can’t say you’re surprised when it does,” said Maurice.