As soon as we heard Toronto Maple Leafs Coach Paul Maurice had been fired, we figured this would jumpstart the Toronto media rumor mill faster than the car battery that Donkey Lips from "Salute Your Shorts" jumpstarts with his dancing nipples in that awful commercial. Within hours, an elaborate scheme in which the Leafs would hire former Vancouver GM Dave Nonis was reported on by TSN, and reviewed here by the Globe & Mail:
The TSN report suggested that by hiring Nonis as GM, the Leafs would then be in a position to lure Brian Burke as team president when his contract with the Anaheim Ducks expires after next season.
Burke was on top of the Leafs' GM list, but the Ducks announced two weeks ago that he will remain with the team through the 2008-09 season and that negotiations on a contract extension between Anaheim and Burke would continue.
Leafs GM Cliff Fletcher shot down the idea that Maurice was fired to clear the way for a new general manager, and not just because it's absolutely daft to believe a lame duck coach was somehow going to repel a managerial candidate's interest. Fletcher told the Globe & Mail that he needed "time to evaluate the coaching staff and that there wasn't a scheduled MLSE board of directors meeting until Tuesday this week," and because the Atlanta Thrashers, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators are all looking for new head coaches as well.
We're also fond of Lowetide's theory that the Leafs were just tired of being out of the news. If they're really the New York Yankees of the NHL, this would fit the requirements.
Like we said, the rumour mill is spinning. And right now it involves Nonis, Burke, Gary Bettman, Ken Holland and, incredibly, Wayne Gretzky.
There are obviously several very good reasons for GM Ken Holland to stay in Detroit, and you'll have a chance to watch them against the Dallas Stars tonight. But Damien Cox believes the chief reason he'll stay out of Toronto is because he would never have autonomy under the MLSE board.
Back on Nonis and Burke, Ed Willes quotes Burke as saying the Maurice move had nothing to do with him, and goes on to write that the Maple Leafs asking the Vancouver Canucks permission to speak with Nonis is out of fear ... of Gary Bettman:
It was also interesting to note the Leafs are seeking permission to talk to an employee fired by the Canucks. This might be because of their deep and abiding sense of professionalism which is famous throughout the hockey world. Or it could be because they're spit scared of Bettman.
According to a variety of sources, everyone's favourite commissioner has been watching this situation like a hawk and he's not exactly thrilled with the way the Leafs have conducted this search. Bettman has let it be known he'd take a dim view of any tampering charges brought about by the Ducks. Burke is also acutely aware of the commissioner's position on this matter.
Hmmmm ... it's usually not in the Leafs' nature to try and circumvent the system (ahem). Anyhoo, one of the stranger facets of this Toronto situation is the entry of Phoenix Coyotes Coach Wayne Gretzky's name into the mix.
A site called NHL Trade Rumours calls Gretzky the "front-runner" to lead the Leafs' front office, and offers a few reasons why. We offer this rumour no credence -- and absolutely no kind of dopey number rating regarding its validity, either -- but we did receive an e-mail from a reader yesterday claiming that, through friend-of-a-friend communication, he had heard Gretzky was coming to Toronto as a team president and that his former agent/general manager in Phoenix Mike Barnett would be the GM; partially so Gretzky can be closer to his father. Again, we claim no inside knowledge on this or any other facet of the Leafs' managerial search; we just find it interesting that this Gretzky rumour seems to be bubbling under the surface and has yet to be addressed by the MSM.
On the coaching front, there are going to be many names floated -- Denver's talking about Coach Q heading to T.O. -- but Steven Ovadia had a great take on this and other NHL vacancies behind the pine:
My main objection to that is I really don't want the NHL to become the incestuous fired-coach carousel that is the NBA. There are like 31 NBA coaches. It seems like no one new ever comes in; at best, a coach sits out a year before returning to the league. And that just adds to the parity. The NHL does not need that.
Interesting, however, that the Final Four of the playoffs feature two coaches who've only helmed one NHL team and two coaches on their second NHL teams. Maybe a retread once-removed is OK.