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Cliff Fletcher Named Interim General Manager

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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- The Toronto Maple Leafs announced Tuesday that John Ferguson’s contract as vice president and general manager, which expires June 30, 2008, will not be extended. As a result, he has been relieved of his duties effective immediately. Cliff Fletcher, who served with the Leafs as team president, chief operating officer and general manager between 1991 and 1997, has been appointed to serve as interim general manager.

“After full consideration of the Leafs’ situation, it has become clear that change and a new direction is needed. The decision has been made that John will not be receiving a new contract at the end of this year, and it’s in the best interests of the Leafs and of John to begin the transition immediately,” said Richard Peddie, president and chief executive officer of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. “John has been given the opportunity and the resources he requested to deliver results from the strategic plans that he put in place when he was named general manager in 2003, and while the new collective bargaining agreement required some re-shaping of those plans, the results have fallen short of what our organization, including John, and our fans expect.

“We will always be grateful to John for his passion, dedication and commitment to putting a winning team on the ice. He’s a man of the highest integrity, who withstood often unfair public criticism with dignity and class. He represented our organization and our community in a first class manner. We wish him well in what we expect will be a long and productive hockey career.”

Ferguson became the 12th general manager in Leafs franchise history on August 29, 2003, and during his tenure the club reached at least 90 points and 40 wins in each of the three seasons played. Toronto has a combined record of 145 wins, 110 losses, 10 ties, 13 overtime losses, and 17 shootout losses for a .559 points percentage.

Fletcher, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the Builder category in 2004, brings more than 50 years of experience to his new role with the Leafs.

“Cliff Fletcher is the ideal person to lay the groundwork of positive change for the Leafs,” said Peddie. “As all of our general managers have had, he will have the autonomy and responsibility for all hockey decisions with a focus on establishing a foundation from which the next general manager can build. He will guide us through the upcoming trade deadline and toward the draft and free agent signing period.”

Beginning in 1956 as a scout with the Montreal Canadiens under legendary Sam Pollock, Fletcher served as a scout and assistant general manager with the St. Louis Blues from 1966-72 before being named general manager of the expansion Atlanta Flames in 1972. During the next 10 years, he led the Flames to two division titles, two conference championships, two Presidents’ Trophies, and the 1989 Stanley Cup championship.

Fletcher’s teams have a career record of 929 wins, 776 losses, and 295 ties for a .539 winning percentage during his time as a general manager. Fletcher took over a struggling Leafs franchise in 1991 and presided over a turnaround that saw the  team advance to the conference finals in 1993 and 1994. The Leafs played in 52 postseason games with Fletcher at the helm. He was chosen “Man of the Year” and “Executive of the  Year” in 1993  by The Hockey News. Under his direction, the Leafs posted a record of 202 wins, 200 losses, and 58 ties for a .502 winning percentage.

In 1999 Fletcher came out of retirement to serve as senior advisor to the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning for two seasons. He joined the Phoenix Coyotes in February 2001 as general manager and executive vice president, moving up to senior executive vice president of hockey operations the following year. He and the club’s general manager were relieved of their duties in Phoenix in April 2007.

The Leafs also announced that Gord Kirke has been retained to help head up the search for the new general manager. Kirke has been involved with the representation of numerous components of the sports business for more than 30 years and has acted on behalf of several sports teams. In addition to representing the interests of a long list of athletes, coaches and sports executives, Kirke’s client list includes leagues such as the Ontario Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League as well as unions such as the National Hockey League Players Association and the Professional Hockey Players Association.

The president and first Canadian director of the Sports Lawyers Association, Kirke has authored numerous legal articles and has been publisher of several journals related to sports and entertainment law. He is a professor of sports and entertainment law at both Osgoode Hall Law School of York University, and the University of Toronto.

“Sports attorney Gord Kirke and I will form the search team that will ultimately recommend the next president and general manager to the board of directors. Cliff will serve as a resource to us in that process, “Peddie said. “We believe being president and general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs is the top job in hockey, and we have defined criteria as we begin to consider candidates for the position. Our ideal candidate will be a long-term builder and a short-term fixer who has an established track record of success on the ice.

“Along with experience and extensive knowledge in the areas of drafting and identifying talent in the professional, amateur and international ranks, this individual will be comfortable with the intense scrutiny within the Toronto hockey market and will work effectively with the media. He will have the full autonomy to lead this hockey club in the manner he feels is best.”

The Leafs have home-and-home games with Washington this Wednesday and Thursday heading into the NHL All-Star Weekend.

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