The Toronto Maple Leafs limped home after dropping four straight road games, shut out in three and scoring only once in another. They enter this week with only one win in six games under interim coach Peter Horachek, falling seven points out of playoff contention in the Eastern Conference.
That woeful performance served to add fodder to the Leafs rumor mill. Several Toronto-based pundits speculated over possible moves leading up to the March 2 trade deadline.
Sportsnet's Damien Cox has seen enough, calling upon Leafs president Brendan Shanahan to blow up the roster and rebuild from scratch. He acknowledged such a move will be costly and will also include hiring new management and coaches. Cox also admits trading leading scorer Phil Kessel and team captain Dion Phaneuf will take time, but believes players like Tyler Bozak, Cody Franson, Roman Polak and Joffrey Lupul could be easier to move.
Cox's colleague Nick Kypreos thinks the Leafs should trade leading scorer Kessel, considering him an accessory player rather than one to build around. If the Leafs have an opportunity to get a promising young player like Arizona Coyotes prospect Max Domi as part of the return, Kypreos believes they should do it.
TSN's Jeff O'Neill believes Kessel and Phaneuf should be dealt, even if it's to get their expensive contracts off the Leafs' books. Jamie McLennan doubts the Leafs swing a blockbuster move before the trade deadline, but could shop lesser lights like winger Lupul once he returns from injury.
Pierre LeBrun of TSN reports the Leafs and Winnipeg Jets had discussions with the Los Angeles Kings regarding center Mike Richards. His contract ($5.75-million per season through 2019-20) is a major sticking point and LeBrun doubts Richards is a good fit with either club.
The Toronto Star's Kevin McGran also noted the trade rumors swirling about the Leafs. In addition to their supposed interest in O'Reilly, McGran claims talk of shipping Phaneuf to the Kings for Richards was making the rounds. His colleague Mark Zwolinski reports the Dallas Stars could be interested in Lupul.
Not every Toronto pundit was talking about which Leafs should be traded. The National Post's Michael Traikos listed Kessel, center Nazem Kadri, defensemen Morgan Rielly and Cody Franson, goaltender Jonathan Bernier and prospect William Nylander as those he considers close to untouchable.
Despite the trade chatter among the Toronto punditry, it's anyone's guess what moves Shanahan and GM Dave Nonis have in store between now and the March trade deadline. The worse the Leafs play, the greater the pressure upon the front office to do something – anything – to address the problem.
Big moves involving Kessel or Phaneuf will likely wait until the off-season, when there are more teams with cap space willing to gamble on their expensive, long-term contracts. If Phaneuf is dealt, however, it's doubtful the Kings will acquire him, even if it meant sending Richards' toxic contract to Toronto.
In a recent interview, Kings GM Dean Lombardi observed that adding an expensive contract could create a cap headache if currently-suspended blueliner Slava Voynov returns to the lineup later this season. Phaneuf's $7-million per season becomes a bigger cap headache than Richards' $5.75 million.
As for landing O'Reilly, there's no pressure on the Avalanche to move him by the trade deadline. They could wait until the off-season when his trade value could be higher. It's also possible the Avs could have their eye on promising rearguard Rielly, which could be a deal breaker for the Leafs.
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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