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Maple Leafs shakeup

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the league worst team with only 14 points in 21 games. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are the league worst team with only 14 points in 21 games. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Change could be coming soon for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

GM Brian Burke, apparently fed up with his team’s poor play, is reportedly considering trade options or demotions.

According to the Toronto Sun, Burke is particularly peeved over the performance of several players on one-way NHL contracts and is considering demoting them, leaving open the possibility rival clubs claim them off waivers.

Burke didn’t name potential candidates, but the Toronto Star suggested Jason Blake, Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Garnet Exelby as possibilities.

Given the Leafs’ poor play, trade options to improve the club are almost non-existent as the Toronto players of real value are defenseman Tomas Kaberle and right winger Phil Kessel.

Kessel isn’t going anywhere and moving Kaberle now, even if he agreed to waive his no-movement clause, won’t improve the play of the underachievers.

At this point, demotions appear to be Burke’s only real option, although there have been rumors the Chicago Blackhawks are scouting the Leafs.

• Speaking of the Blackhawks, management’s efforts to re-sign three key players may result in another being traded or demoted to avoid violating the league’s tagging rule.

It’s believed the Blackhawks are on the verge of re-signing forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews as well as defenseman Duncan Keith to long-term contract extensions. Kane and Toews have reportedly agreed to identical five-year, $6 million per season deals, while Keith’s is reportedly for 13 years at $5 million per.

The problem is, those combined salaries would push the Blackhawks’ committed payroll for 2010-11 to around $60 million. Under the tagging rule in the CBA, no team can commit more to next season’s payroll than the current salary cap limit, which is $56.8 million.

That means the Blackhawks might have to move nearly $4 million in salary before they can officially announce those re-signings, but TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports the Blackhawks might be able to increase their tagging space by another $4 million; the amount of their performance bonus cushion.

McKenzie suggests one possibility is to trade or demote defenseman Brent Sopel and his $2.33 million per season salary.

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Sopel is likely – as McKenzie claims – the most expendable player, but that hasn’t stopped speculation the club may also peddle more valuable players like Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg or Cam Barker. Those could be possibilities, but Blackhawks management would probably prefer to retain those players for at least the remainder of this season and look at moving them in the off-season.

Forget about dealing Brian Campbell, his contract (worth more than $7 million per season) is too expensive and he’s unlikely to waive his no-movement clause.

• One rumor making the rounds has the Montreal Canadiens’ Kostitsyn brothers headed to Edmonton.

The Ottawa Sun has reported for the past two weeks the Oilers were interested in the Kostitsyns as Habs GM Bob Gainey apparently wants to move the pair for scoring help. The Buffalo News also picked up on the speculation, reporting a possible swap involving Sergei Kostitsyn for Edmonton’s Andrew Cogliano.

The basis for this rumor is that Sergei was a linemate of Oilers center Sam Gagner during their years with the Ontario League’s London Knights.

Both clubs are struggling and could use a lift, but this deal doesn’t make sense for either team.

Sergei has been sulking with Montreal’s American League affiliate in Hamilton when he’s not been threatening to bolt to Russia, while Andrei has done little to bolster his value with his floating performance.

The Habs already have enough small forwards, so it makes little sense for them to pursue the 5-foot-10, 184-pound Cogliano.

Sure, the argument can be made the size factor didn’t stop Gainey from signing talented shrimps Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta and Mike Cammalleri last summer, but this team badly needs scorers with size, something Cogliano won’t address.

Given Oilers winger Patrick O’Sullivan has been earning negative reviews of late for his seeming distaste for physical play, don’t be surprised if some of the more creative Internet rumors expands this to a Kostitsyns for O’Sullivan-Cogliano deal.

Rumor Roundup appears Mondays and Thursdays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Foxsports.com and Eishockey Magazine.

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