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Rumor Roundup: Are trades next for Winnipeg Jets?

The coach has been replaced in Winnipeg. Are players next to be shipped out? Will the Toronto Maple Leafs make a quick-fix trade? And have the Anaheim Ducks changed their mind about Jonas Hilller?

The Winnipeg Jets’ recent replacement of Claude Noel as coach with Paul Maurice did little to dampen trade rumors swirling around the team. If the coaching change fails to improve the club’s performance, significant roster changes could be next.

Center Olli Jokinen acknowledged as much to the Winnipeg Sun, while Blake Wheeler blamed himself and his teammates for Noel’s firing. Captain Andrew Ladd hoped the coaching move “brings some energy to this group and some desperation”.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, in the press conference announcing the coaching change, believes it’s now up to the players to respond positively to their new bench boss. Cheveldayoff also intends to “take a long hard look at what other steps there are to move forward.” In a subsequent interview with TSN 1050 radio, Cheveldayoff said he needs to move pieces “to either establish a larger core or maybe move some pieces that re-establish some different things,” adding it’s a project still in the works.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen believes a coaching change isn’t enough, suggesting a bolder move is necessary, like a blockbuster trade involving Evander Kane or Dustin Byfuglien. Given the Jets depth of talent, Allen doesn’t believe a rebuild is necessary, while Winnipeg’s location and cold climate could hamper efforts to pursue top free agents.

If Cheveldayoff makes a major trade involving his core players it might not happen this season. There are too many teams with limited cap space and whatever offers he gets for those players will be heavy on draft picks and prospects. He’ll have better luck from in the summer, as teams will have considerably more cap space and a willingness to pursue expensive talent via trades and free agency.

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ ongoing struggles has increased anticipation GM Dave Nonis will make a big move to bolster his sagging roster.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star reports Nonis is seeking a deal to help his club now and over the long term. Nonis insists he’s not shopping 23-year-olds Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner, adding the only way either would move is for a blue chip player similar in age.

The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch speculates Gardiner or blueliner Carl Gunnarsson could be dealt for scoring help. TSN’s Bob McKenzie believes Gardiner and Kadri could be moved if Nonis acknowledges coach Randy Carlyle won’t use those players.

McKenzie’s colleague Darren Dreger reported the Leafs are interested in a top-line center, a “big time winger” or a top defenseman. Given the difficulty of acquiring such players during the season, Dreger doubted such a significant move could occur.

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Nonis will surely listen to offers for Kadri and Gardiner, but that doesn’t mean he’ll move either player. He certainly won’t sacrifice them for a short-term fix. At this point, the best offers could come from non-playoff contenders trying to dump players they don’t intend to re-sign, which probably won’t address the Leafs’ pressing needs.

Earlier this season, there was considerable speculation over goaltender Jonas Hiller’s future with the Anaheim Ducks. Eligible for unrestricted free agency in July, the 31-year-old veteran was for a time being out-played by call-up Frederik Andersen. Given the Ducks’ depth of promising goalies, it was believed Hiller would be shopped before the March 5 trade deadline.

Since then, the Ducks are the NHL’s hottest team, pulling away from the pack in the Western Conference. One reason for their success is Hiller, who’s won a team-record 14 consecutive games, sporting a 23-4-4 record with a 2.35 goals-against average and three shutouts.

Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times reports Hiller’s performance “should significantly inflate” his pay beyond his current $4.5 million per season. Though his agent has spoken with Ducks GM Bob Murray “a couple of times,” contract talks have yet to begin. Murray praised Hiller’s performance, but declined to comment on his contract status.

Pugmire points out Murray also refused to discuss his contract talks with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry last season. That generated considerable trade conjecture until both were ultimately re-signed well before season’s end.

Murray could be judging Hiller’s performances over the remainder of the season and the playoffs before opening contract talks. It’s premature to assume he won’t re-sign the Swiss netminder. Of the Ducks goaltenders, only Hiller has playoff experience, making it increasingly unlikely he’ll be dealt this season.

Rumor Roundup appears weekdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).

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