It didn't take long to for the Toronto Maple Leafs firing of head coach Randy Carlyle on Jan. 6 to ramp up the Leafs trade speculation. Before the day was over the Toronto media was ruminating over which Leafs were most likely to hit the trade block.
Leafs GM Dave Nonis fuelled the conjecture during the press conference announcing Carlyle's firing, pointing out his players were “moveable” while noting none had full no-move clauses. TSN's Darren Dreger went one step further, claiming all the Leafs players were “potential trade targets.”
Speaking with TSN 1050 soon after the coaching change was announced, Dreger said it will be interesting to see if Nonis and team president Brendan Shanahan still believe in their core players, specifically captain Dion Phaneuf, top liners Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak, as well as center Nazem Kadri and pending UFA defenseman Cody Franson.
The Globe and Mail's Cathal Kelly believes the Leafs should trade Kessel, suggesting the talented winger's attitude is a corrosive influence in the dressing room. He feels moving the 27-year-old scorer and his cronies is best for the club's long-term health.
Kelly's colleague James Mirtle suggests Leafs management should gauge the trade value of Kessel and Phaneuf, but cautions a full-scale rebuild is no guarantee of improvement, citing the hapless Edmonton Oilers. Mirtle also recommends dumping players “moving out of their prime” like Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak, even if it means taking on bad contracts which will expire sooner, as well as absorbing half of David Clarkson's contract if it will improve his trade value.
Along with Kadri and Franson, goaltender James Reimer and defenseman Cody Franson often wound up in Carlyle's doghouse. It'll be interesting to see how his firing affects their performance and trade value.
Despite the trade suggestions coming from the Toronto pundits, it's doubtful Nonis and Shanahan will go into sell mode right away. While the Leafs are in the midst of a lengthy losing skid, dropping seven of their last ten heading into their Jan. 7 tilt against the Washington Capitals, they remain in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Blowing up the roster now would definitely jeopardize whatever hopes they have of clinching a post-season berth.
If their tailspin persists and they're out of playoff contention in a month's time, Nonis and Shanahan could consider making some significant moves leading up to the deadline, laying the foundation for other deals to follow in the off-season.
Given the uncertainty over the 2015-16 salary cap, shipping out those with considerable term remaining on their contracts could prove difficult. Teams will have interest in Kessel, Phaneuf, van Riemsdyk, Bozak, Lupul and Gardiner, but with those players signed well beyond 2016, the Leafs could find themselves having to absorb some salary to swing a deal. It could prove easier to move those players in the off-season once the salary cap limits for '15-'16 have been established.
If any trade deadline deals are to be made, they'll likely involve lesser-talented players, those who are pending free agents or on a short-term deal. Franson, Kadri, Reimer, Jonathan Bernier, Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli fall into those categories. Not all of them will be moved, of course, but some could become trade candidates by March 2.
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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