Following the Toronto Maple Leafs’ stunning late-season collapse, it was widely assumed coach Randy Carlyle would be replaced. Leafs Nation received quite a surprise last week when the team announced Carlyle was not only returning next season but was re-signed to a two-year extension.
While opinion varied among the Toronto punditry over this decision, there was agreement his return could lead to roster changes this summer. “There’s no way the Leafs can justify bringing Carlyle back with essentially the same group of players,” wrote THN columnist Adam Proteau.
Trading captain Dion Phaneuf could be the biggest change. Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos cites independent sources claiming the Leafs are shopping Phaneuf, who signed a seven-year, $49-million extension in December, to Western Conference teams. He claims hearing “lots of interest” in Phaneuf, who lacks a no-trade clause, though clubs value him at $5 to $6 million per season, meaning the Leafs would have to pick up part of his salary.
Some Leafs fans would also enjoy seeing Phil Kessel hitting the trade block. Like Phaneuf, Kessel re-signed a lengthy and expensive new contract (eight-years, $64 million) earlier this season. While there are questions about Phaneuf’s leadership and defensive play, there shouldn’t be any about Kessel’s value to the Leafs. He led the team in scoring the past five seasons and finished among the league’s top- 10 scorers the past three, all without the benefit of a true first-line center. He’s a player worth building around.
Proteau believes restricted free agent goalie James Reimer and unrestricted free agent forwards Dave Bolland and Nikolai Kulemin are unlikely to return. Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons shared that opinion regarding Bolland and Kulemin, speculating the Leafs would trade them for draft picks prior to July 1. Simmons also feels they’ll qualify Reimer’s rights and re-sign the 26-year-old, claiming the Leafs have had some calls on him regarding a possible trade.
TSN’s Darren Dreger tweeted center Nazem Kadri and defenseman Jake Gardiner were among those mentioned in trade discussions. The pair was frequently mentioned in trade rumors during the regular season, though GM Dave Nonis maintained he wouldn’t consider moving either unless he received comparable players of similar ages (23). It’ll be interesting to see if Nonis is prepared to move off that asking price.
The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk cautioned against making a hasty trade involving Kadri or Gardiner. He noted instances in Leafs history where impatience forced them into parting ways with promising young players (Tuukka Rask, Alexander Steen, even Carlyle early in his playing days) who went on to stardom elsewhere.
Reimer’s trade value is down, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for him. Packaged with Kadri or Gardiner, he could help fetch a reasonable return. Restricted free agent blueliner Cody Franson could also have some trade value on his own or in a package deal.
There’s no lack of potential trade partners for the Leafs this summer. Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon has $30 million in projected cap space and a willingness to spend. The Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals will be under new management and looking to shake things up. The Buffalo Sabres are engaged in a massive rebuild, while the Calgary Flames enter Year 2 of their overhaul.
The Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders continue their perpetual rebuilds. The Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets are in tinkering mode. The New Jersey Devils, Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators need scoring punch. The Tampa Bay Lightning seek blueline depth. After another spring of early playoff exits, the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues could make changes.
With more than $48 million invested in 12 players next season and approximately $22 million in projected cap space, the Leafs have room to maneuver this summer.
Nonis was former Leafs GM Brian Burke’s assistant when the latter shipped struggling defenseman Luke Schenn to Philadelphia for James van Riemsdyk, a deal that worked in the Leafs favor. The challenge for Nonis is to pull off a move akin to the van Riemsdyk deal or at least one in which he gets equal value.
Moving Phaneuf could mean either picking up part of his contract or taking back significant salary in return. The danger in shipping out youngsters like Kadri and Gardiner is they could go on to stardom elsewhere, while whatever return the Leafs get fails to improve the club.
Last summer, Nonis went shopping for complimentary players who could carry the Leafs deep into the playoffs. Following this season’s disappointment, the challenge is finding core players who can bring stability to the lineup.
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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