And so it is coming down to a pair of ex-NHL general managers, Doug Armstrong or Neil Smith, for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

After receiving formal rejections to their requests for permission to speak to a bevy of active front-office types about their GM position, the Leafs will launch their interview process within the next week with Armstrong and Smith. In fact, they may be the only two who get interviewed.

And sources who irrefutably are in position to know have told Metro that one of the two very likely will be hired before the end of June.


The sources also said Armstrong is the top candidate at this point because the Dallas Stars – whom he essentially built – were impressive in advancing to the recent Western final against the Detroit Red Wings.

Armstrong, son of former NHL linesman and scout Neil Armstrong, was the Stars’ GM from 2002 until November, 2007. A native of Sarnia, Ont., Armstrong served in different roles with Dallas over 17 years.

Smith, a Toronto native, was the New York Rangers’ GM from 1989 to 2000.

• Dave Nonis, fired as the Vancouver Canucks’ GM after the regular season and interviewed by the Leafs recently for a front-office job in which he would have been obligated to report to the new Toronto GM, will be hired this week as the new GM of either the St. Louis Blues or the Atlanta Thrashers. . .Among the candidates whom the Leafs were forbidden by other organizations from pursuing were Detroit GM Ken Holland, Detroit assistant GM Jim Nill, Detroit vice-president Steve Yzerman, San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson and Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke. The Leafs are determined to play by the rules and therefore have given up efforts to pry any of the aforementioned five. . .Also, two previous top candidates -- executives Glen Sather and Bob Clarke of the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, respectively -- have been deemed too old by the Leafs and are no longer being considered by the Leafs’ braintrust.

In baseball, the Blue Jays’ John Gibbons is no longer the best bet to become the first MLB manager fired this season.

The Seattle Mariners’ John McLaren and the New York Mets’ Willie Randolph are neck-and-neck these days for that dubious distinction.

And a former major-league journeyman, pitcher John Parrish, is raising scouts’ eyebrows with the Jays’ Triple A affiliate in Syracuse.

The 30-year-old left-hander has gone 6-0 and has been dominating batters after being transformed from a reliever to a starter.

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