Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
The hiring of coach Mike Babcock by the Toronto Maple Leafs could mean that both Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf will remain with the club next season, while the team may also look at bringing defenseman Cody Franson back into the fold. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to land a first-round pick before the draft.
The Toronto Maple Leafs' recent hiring of former Detroit Red Wings' coach Mike Babcock continues to raise questions over the impact his arrival will have upon their off-season plans. Of particular interest is how it could affect the future of captain Dion Phaneuf, who was pursued by the Red Wings earlier this season.
MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports the Wings could revisit their interest in the 30-year-old Phaneuf this summer, but the Leafs' coaching change could take the blueliner off the market. Khan notes that Babcock, during his introductory press conference last week with the Toronto media, claimed to be a fan of Phaneuf and praised his work ethic.
Following the Leafs front-office housecleaning in April, it was widely assumed Phaneuf and scoring right winger Phil Kessel would be dealt this summer as part of a massive roster rebuild. While both are carrying lengthy, expensive contracts, the consensus held the Leafs might pick up part of their salaries in hopes of swapping them for younger, cheaper talent.
With the highly-regarded Babcock behind the bench, perhaps Leafs president Brendan Shanahan gives Phaneuf and Kessel an opportunity to improve, provided they're willing to do so. While they haven't requested a trade, neither player enjoyed being the whipping boys for the Leafs’ second-half collapse. It remains to be seen if they feel playing for Babcock is worth it.
FRANSON HAS OPTIONS IN FREE AGENCY
Babcock's hiring also attracted the attention of a former Leafs blueliner. Luke Fox of SportsNet reported that Cody Franson, dealt to Nashville in February, said he would welcome returning to Toronto as an unrestricted free agent under their new head coach.
Franson had respectable point totals over the past two seasons with the Leafs, but his production dropped noticeably following his trade to the Predators. Despite that decline, the limited talent in this summer's free-agent market ensures Franson will remain among the top available defensemen.
If Franson fails to return with the Leafs, the Vancouver Canucks might be an option. The Province's Jason Botchford agrees with Fox, reporting the Canucks blueline must get younger and faster, suggesting the 27-year-old Sicamous, BC native could be a good fit.
Botchford anticipates Franson's asking price could be around $5 million per season. With the Canucks cap hit for 2015-16 at over $66 million and the salary cap projected to rise to around $71 million, they must shed salary if they wish to add Franson. Veterans blueliners Kevin Bieksa or Dan Hamhuis could be trade candidates.
Another option for Franson could be the Edmonton Oilers. Jonathan Willis of the Edmonton Journal makes the case that Franson would be a more suitable free-agent target for the Oilers than Washington's Mike Green.
PENGUINS SEEKING A FIRST-ROUND PICK
The Pittsburgh Penguins will be busy in the trade market leading up to the 2015 NHL Draft on June 26-27 in Florida. Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Penguins GM Jim Rutherford is seeking a first-round pick.
Rutherford traded his first-rounder to Edmonton earlier this season as part of the David Perron deal. He's made it known he intends to target one of the teams with two first-round picks this year (Buffalo, Toronto, Arizona, Philadelphia and Winnipeg are among them), claiming he's already spoken to a couple of clubs. Molinari notes Sabres GM Tim Murray is willing to deal his second first-rounder, which sits 21st overall.
The Penguins have depth in promising young defensemen to offer up for one of those first-rounders. However, they can forget about prying away any of the picks which sit in the top ten. The Oilers, Sabres, Coyotes and Leafs hold the top-four selections, while the Flyers sit at seventh overall. The Jets' highest selection is 17th, but they could be reluctant to move it. If Rutherford can pry away a first-rounder from one of those clubs, it'll likely be one in the bottom third of that round.
DEBOER TO COACH THE SHARKS?
According to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, the San Jose Sharks have pegged former New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer as their new bench boss.
DeBoer, who was let go by the Devils during the holiday break of this season, led the Devils to a Stanley Cup final in 2011-12, his first season behind the New Jersey bench. Before coaching the Devils, DeBoer spent three seasons in Florida as coach of the Panthers, being fired just months before taking the position in New Jersey.
Over his career, DeBoer has amassed a 205-183-70 record as an NHL coach. He was named the OHL coach of the year in 1999 and 2000.
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.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.