Cliff Fletcher may have played himself out of a job soon, what with the sudden availability of Brian Burke.
But if he stays, hangs around as an advisor or happily packs his backs for Phoenix, Fletcher has done what he set out to do. The unexpectedly sunny prospects for the job that will attract a successor is largely Fletcher’s doing.
Since taking over the Maple Leafs on an interim basis last January, Fletcher has refashioned the hockey operation and dramatically changed the culture inside the dressing room.
There is plenty of work to do, but the Leafs are dramatically faster and hungrier than they were a year ago. The Leafs have 18 points in 17 games. They sit in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They compete most every night. Nobody is talking Stanley Cup but all would agree that a veneer of respectability has been returned to the franchise.
Fletcher’s biggest conundrum is an enviable one. Will the Maple Leafs solid play rule out a lottery pick or the acquisition of more fledgling talent at the trade deadline?
One thing we know now. The Silver Fox has not lost his fastball.
Here’s how he did it.
- Fletcher changed the culture of the dressing room. It’s a little cheesy to say that dealing Bryan McCabe and buying out Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft straightened out the room. Clearly though, the team needed a new dynamic and the acquisition of solid citizens such as Jamal Mayers, Nik Hagman and Mike Van Ryn did just that. There is a reinvigorated sense of respect for the franchise: when players are interviewed in the dressing room, they wear Maple Leafs’ caps, not caps bearing their individual agendas. It’s a little thing, but it means a lot.