The Maple Leafs GM search will now move past Brian Burke and continue with further candidate interviews, but the end process may wind up where it currently sits — with Cliff Fletcher in command.

“The process continues,” Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment President Richard Peddie said last night after word that Burke, the apparent top target on the Leafs GM radar, affirmed that he will honour the final year of his contract with the Anaheim Ducks next season — and work toward a contract extension.

The Leafs had no further comment, largely because of the shock behind Burke’s re-commitment to Anaheim, and because of a code of silence by Peddie and Toronto sports lawyer Gord Kirke, who are in charge of the interview process.

Peddie said the fact the GM search “continues” is in no way affected by Burke’s decision. It’s believed the mandate behind the search was to talk to a number of candidates, although the list of a GM suitable to the demands and pressures of the Toronto market is a short one.

An alternate and arguably prudent plan for the Leafs is to go with the built-in solution — having the interim tag dropped Fletcher’s name in favour of a more permanent status.

That scenario may be the best one in the end since the Leafs will almost certainly run into a road block if they continue to set their GM sights on a short A-list of candidates currently employed by other NHL teams.

A flat out denial was what the organization got last fall when it approached the Detroit Red Wings for permission to speak with both GM Ken Holland and assistant Jim Nill. Sources said MLSE board member Larry Tanenbaum flew in a private jet to Detroit to make the request and was promptly turned down by Wings owner Mike Illitch.

The so-called A-list consisted of Burke and the Detroit executives, who are regarded, along with New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello, as the best in the business.

A so-called second tier of candidates includes experienced NHL GMs Doug McLean, Doug Armstrong, Scotty Bowman, and Neil Smith, as well as current NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell and super agent Don Meehan.

Burke, speaking in a teleconference last night after word of his decision broke at about 6:30 p.m, left no doubt that he should be crossed off of any Leaf speculation for next season — and beyond if he can successfully negotiate a contract extension.

“You can take my name off any list as far as I’m concerned,” said Burke, who has been in meetings with Ducks CEO Michael Schulman the past two days.

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