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Rumor Roundup: Vanek, Miller headed to Wild? Maple Leafs forced to trade?

The Minnesota Wild are now the hottest rumored place for Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek to end up this season. Meanwhile, the return of two injured players could force the hot Toronto Maple Leafs into the trade market.

Thomas Vanek’s days with the New York Islanders appear to be numbered. Newsday’s Arthur Staple cites sources claiming Vanek rejected a substantial offer in the range of his current seven-year, $50- million contract.

Staple claims GM Garth Snow is now entertaining offers for the 30-year-old winger. The Islanders acquired Vanek earlier this season by shipping Matt Moulson, a conditional 2014 first round pick and a 2015 second round pick to the Buffalo Sabres. Snow could seek a similar return for Vanek. The Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins could have interest in Vanek as a playoff rental player.

Last month, Vanek said he would understand if Snow moved him at the trade deadline and didn’t rule out returning to the Islanders this summer as an unrestricted free agent. Considering he dismissed such a lucrative offer from the Isles, it’s unlikely they’ll seriously pursue him via free agency.

Entering a free agent market where the salary cap is projected to rise from $64.3 million to $71.1 million, Vanek should receive lucrative contract offers from several clubs. The Minnesota Wild could be among the suitors. They’re shedding Dany Heatley’s contract at season’s end and Vanek has ties to the state (he played his college hockey at the University of Minnesota).

Vanek’s former Sabres teammate Ryan Miller is also expected to be on the move by the March trade deadline. Recent Internet trade buzz claimed the Wild were close to making a significant offer for him.

Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports Wild management dismissed the rumor as “hogwash.” Russo adds Miller is expected to seek a long-term deal worth $7 million per season, more than the Wild wish to invest in a goalie who will be 34 next season. He doubts they’ll part with “a boatload of assets” for a rental player.

Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun also reports the Wild could be interested in Miller, as well as the Washington Capitals. Garrioch also claims the Sabres tried to shop Miller to the Anaheim Ducks for prospect goalie John Gibson and a first-round pick prior to hiring new GM Tim Murray. Garrioch suggests the struggling Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings should enquire about Miller.

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The Capitals definitely require a goaltending upgrade. With $61 million invested in 21 players next season, they could afford to re-sign Miller, but there’s no guarantee he won’t test the free agent market. It would also prove expensive just to acquire him from the Sabres. The Ducks appear content with their current goaltenders while the Canucks and Kings need scoring depth, not goaltending.

The Toronto Maple Leafs could soon be forced to make some roster moves. Mark Zwolinski of the Toronto Star reports if center Dave Bolland returns from injury this week, the Leafs must move “at least two players” to get under the 23-man roster limit.

Thanks to the Leafs recent improvement, the trade rumors that dogged them through most of January have died down. Zwolinski suggests the return of Bolland could be seen as the equivalent of adding a player via trade.

TSN’s Darren Dreger reported Friday the Leafs informed teams they’re willing to move winger Nikolai Kulemin in return for a roster player. Kulemin, 27, is eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer and probably won’t return. Zwolinski points out the Russian winger has gelled with new linemates Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri, providing a boost to the Leafs secondary scoring.

If Kulemin is moved, the Leafs must find a suitable replacement. One possibility could come from within, as David Clarkson is also expected to return soon from injury.

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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