The most-anticipated rebuild of the Toronto Maple Leafs began on Feb. 15, when the Leafs shipped defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli to the Nashville Predators for center Olli Jokinen, a first-round pick and a prospect.
It's no surprise pending free agents Franson and Santorelli were traded. The Leafs wanted to get something for them, rather than risk losing them for nothing in July. This deal will only spark more speculation over potential moves by the Leafs heading leading up to the March 2 trade deadline.
Much of the focus remains upon leading scorer Phil Kessel and team captain Dion Phaneuf. Both are bearing much of the criticism for the Leafs free-fall this season, and for the club's poor record in recent years. Center Tyler Bozak is also believed on the trade block.
Their respective contracts, however, could make them difficult to move before the trade deadline. Kessel, 27, is in the first year of an eight-year, $64-million contract. Phaneuf, 29, is in the first year of a seven-year, $49-million deal. The 28-year-old Bozak earns a more affordable $4.2-million annually, but has three seasons remaining on his contract.
The Toronto Sun's Terry Koshan reports Kessel loves living and playing in Toronto, but acknowledges he could be dealt. Koshan cites a source claiming Kessel and Phaneuf probably won't be moved until the off-season, unless management gets a favorable offer before the trade deadline.
Sportsnet's Damien Cox also believes Kessel won't be moved until the summer. Noting the winger's expensive contract, Cox speculates the Leafs could be forced to pick up part of Kessel's salary to improve his trade value.
His colleague Elliotte Friedman notes Kessel, Phaneuf and Bozak have limited no-trade clauses. Friedman claims Kessel will accept eight teams as trade destinations. Phaneuf and Bozak have “a few more.” He wonders, however, if they might be pressured into broadening their lists. Despite the expensive contracts and no-trade clauses, some pundits continue to ponder possible trade destinations for these players.
The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson wonders if Calgary Flames president Brian Burke would be interested in Kessel. The former Maple Leafs GM brought Kessel to Toronto in a 2009 trade with the Boston Bruins.
Sportsnet's Jeff Simmons notes Friedman and Cox claim the Los Angeles Kings already expressed interest in Phaneuf. They also wonder if the “defense-needy” Detroit Red Wings could come calling, though they won't part with top prospects Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin. Cox also suggests the Vancouver Canucks as a destination for Bozak.
The Flames possess over $22 million in cap space next season with 16 players under contract. While they can afford Kessel's salary, they appear intent on maintaining their rebuild with promising young talent like Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau. Burke is also leaving the trade decisions up to rookie GM Brad Treliving, who could have little interest in Kessel.
While the Kings need blueline depth and coach Darryl Sutter coached Phaneuf during his first season with the Calgary Flames, they lack the cap space to take on the blueliner's contract. There was speculation of a Phaneuf for Mike Richards swap with either Tyler Toffoli or Tanner Pearson also going to Toronto, but the Kings aren't parting with either of those two promising forwards.
Cap space is also an issue for the Red Wings. They've sought a top-four right-handed defenseman for some time but Phaneuf shoots left. It's also unlikely the Leafs will move Phaneuf to a division rival.
No word if the Canucks have interest in Bozak, but they too have limited cap space ($1.165 million) this season. If they make a significant move they'll have to ship out some salary. They had interest in Evander Kane before he was shipped from Winnipeg to Buffalo, but weren't willing to part with promising youngsters Bo Horvat or Jake Virtanen. They won't part with those kids for a lesser talent like Bozak.
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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