In the week since the Toronto Maple Leafs replaced coach Randy Carlyle on an interim basis with Peter Horachek, trade rumors continue to dog the club. Much of it centers upon Leafs star Phil Kessel, whose critics were out in full force last week.
During the Kessel-bashing fest, Sportsnet's Luke Fox noted Nashville Predators GM David Poile appeared on TSN radio to defend the 27-year-old winger. Poile was the architect of the 2014 Men's Olympic hockey team and Kessel was part of the lineup. Fox claims Poile's comments “raised eyebrows”, pointing out the Predators GM expressed interest in trading for Kessel in 2009 before the winger was dealt by the Boston Bruins to the Leafs.
TSN's Bob McKenzie cautions not to use Poile's comments to mean Kessel could be dealt to the Predators. McKenzie thinks Leafs management is open to offers on all their players but feels they want to evaluate the club's performance under Horachek leading up to the trade deadline. While believing the Leafs could listen to offers for Kessel, McKenzie would be “shocked” if the All-Star was dealt by the deadline.
Despite Kessel's expensive contract, the Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch believes there's a market for the winger. He cites several executives speculating Kessel or Dion Phaneuf could be moved in the off-season.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman thinks defenseman Cody Franson could be the first Leaf to be dealt, citing his unrestricted free agent status in July and the fact he was almost dealt to the Montreal Canadiens last summer for Josh Gorges. Noting how few quality defensemen are available in this summer's free-agent market, Friedman thinks there could be considerable interest in Franson if he hit the trade block.
Despite the speculation, there's no certainty Kessel, Phaneuf, Franson or any members of the Leafs roster will be shopped by the trade deadline, let alone this summer. Management could become buyers, not sellers, ifthe club shows significant improvement by the trade deadline.
If the Leafs do become trade-deadline sellers it'll be pending UFAs like Franson, Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli most likely to move. Shipping out a high-salaried star like Kessel or Phaneuf, who are early in their long-term contracts, almost never happens in-season, even with teams now able to absorb part of a contract in a trade. Should management decide to send Kessel packing, it'll likely happen this summer, when teams have more cap space and willingness to spend, especially given the lack of depth in the UFA market.
Even then, the Leafs must be careful. Despite Kessel's consistency issues and defensive flaws, he's led the Leafs in points every year since joining them in 2009, ranking among the NHL's top-10 scorers every season since 2011-12. Rather than dealing away one of the league's top scorers, the Leafs could be better served finding more complimentary players for Kessel, like a proven first-line center.
WITH HOWARD HURT, RED WINGS MAY NEED HELP
The Detroit Red Wings suffered a serious blow when goaltender Jimmy Howard, recently selected to appear in the NHL All-Star Game, suffered a partial groin tear. The 30-year-old Howard is expected to miss at least two weeks, possibly longer.
With Howard on injured reserve and backup Jonas Gustavsson still sidelined by a shoulder injury, Jared Clinton suggested there could be talk of the Wings pursuing St. Louis Blues netminder Martin Brodeur. Clinton, however, notes the 42-year-old Brodeur's woeful stats are reason enough for the Wings to avoid the former Vezina winner.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman wonders if Wings GM Ken Holland might contact the Buffalo Sabres and inquire into the availability of Jhonas Enroth as short-term relief. Enroth and fellow Sabres netminder Michal Neuvirth are both UFAs in July and there's speculation one of them could be dealt by the trade deadline.
ESPN.com's Craig Custance reports Holland isn't panicking over the plight of his goalie tandem. Howard intends to use call-ups Petr Mrazek and Tom McCollum as replacements. Holland could be justified in his confidence in Mrazek, as the 22-year-old has posted up decent numbers in limited starts this season.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly 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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