By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Feb. 3) — Though I have been critical of Richard Peddie since he appointed himself head of the search committee for a GM to succeed John Ferguson, the Leafs’ CEO was speaking genuinely when he insisted the new manager will have full authority over hockey matters. We’ve heard that sort of claim before from Peddie, and it sounded like just another party line during the press gathering 12 days ago to re-introduce Cliff Fletcher. But, a highly-placed source on the board of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment told me last night that Peddie spoke the absolute truth.
“Richard wasn’t blowing smoke, I can assure you of that,” said the source. “Not only are we going after the very best person we can get, but that person will have the same deal as [Bryan] Colangelo on our basketball side. His agreement and authority will be in writing. We’ll provide him with a budget and it will be his baby all the way. He won’t have to seek board approval for hockey decisions, unless he plans to exceed the budget. Obviously, we’ll want to be kept in the loop, and Bryan does that with us very well. But, we realize it’s the only way we’re going to get a top hockey guy. Richard was telling it straight.”
The MLSE source insisted that Peddie was also being truthful when he said — as he has numerous times in the past — that the board did not interfere with Ferguson’s moves. “He’s right, John was given the green light on everything he put before us. But, his arrangement was that he had to bring almost all decisions to the board for approval. I think we’ve come to understand that we have to change that approach. Our search for a new GM will be very thorough. But, once we find that man, he’ll have complete autonomy. We can’t see ourselves making it work any other way.”
This should come as a breath of fresh air for every fan of the Maple Leafs. The MLSE source I spoke with would not tell me whether the new approach was mandated by the company’s prime shareholder — the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan — as it had been when the decision was made to bring in Colangelo. “It doesn’t matter how we came to this conclusion,” he said. “I think it’s just common sense. We’ve been doing things one way with our hockey team, and it hasn’t worked. Therefore, we have to try something else. It’s that simple.”
It’s also a mandate that — if followed — will greatly enhance MLSE’s hopes of landing one of the big fish. Respected hockey people such as Brian Burke, Scotty Bowman, Jim Rutherford, Ken Holland and Lou Lamoriello have been mentioned in media circles. “We’ll try and sign all five,” the source cracked when I put the abovementioned names to him. “I can’t say what our plan is but I can guarantee you we have one. And, the way we present our opening will be very attractive to a lot of good hockey people.”
The source also said the MLSE board will fully support Fletcher in any decision he feels is necessary to amend the current roster, including finances for buyouts, recall waivers and/or minor-league demotions.