Prominent Toronto sports lawyer Gordon Kirke will put on a new hat as a corporate recruiter in his role as half of a search committee set up to find a new hockey kingpin to take charge of the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs.
"From my standpoint, the work begins now," Kirke said Wednesday. "And the first part is a learning curve."
Kirke is familiar to executives throughout the game from his previous work as an agent and lawyer for such prominent players as Eric Lindros, Mike Modano and Rick Nash and from his legal work on behalf of both the OHL and CHL.
"So these guys are not unknown to me. If you gave me a list of who your top 10 candidates are [for the job of Leafs general manager] probably seven or eight of them I've had some dealings with."
Kirke said he was only contacted in the past week by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment president Richard Peddie, who said he had a favour to ask.
Usually, that means getting free tickets to some event, but Kirke knew that Peddie must have something else in mind.
"It really did catch me off guard. As a lifetime Torontonian, it sounded like a pretty good opportunity."
At that point, Cliff Fletcher had not yet been hired as interim GM and his name did not come up in the conversation, Kirke said. "The moment I heard that they had these plans with Cliff Fletcher, I thought the job is going to be easier, because it takes away some of the time pressure. The one thing you don't want to do when you're doing any kind of recruiting is be under a time pressure that might make you make a mistake in haste."
It's the first time Kirke has done any work for MLSE or the Leafs organization - he played no part in the hiring of John Ferguson -although he has known Peddie since the latter's time as president of SkyDome starting in 1989. Peddie has referred to Kirke as his ex-agent, but Kirke said he only represented him on one contract several years ago. "And then I guess he got smart and figured he didn't have to pay an agent to do it."
Fletcher himself will not join Peddie and Kirke on the search committee, because "realistically, Cliff is going to have his hands full running a hockey operation. It's a huge job even on interim basis."
But Fletcher will play a key role as an adviser on the new hire and others will be consulted. "I really want to meet with people whose opinions I value about hockey personnel, and Cliff would obviously be No. 1 on the list," Kirke said.
He may also tap into the expertise of some former player clients who have moved into management jobs, but declined to name them to avoid sparking speculation that any might be candidates for the Leaf job.
"There are all kinds of people in the game whose opinions I value."
That doesn't preclude any from consideration, though. "The door is still pretty open until we identify our consensus [choice]"
No deadline has been set, and Kirke and Peddie will undoubtedly find their best fishing in the off season, when more of the experienced candidates they seek are likely to be available.
"This is the Toronto market after all. It's a tough market," said Kirke, pointing to the intense scrutiny from media and fans of everything to do with the Leafs and of their long history and renowned culture. "I think you need someone who is media savvy, which usually, but not necessarily, speaks to experience."
More important, the next Leafs GM needs to be someone of whom Leaf followers will say: "They got it right."