Phil Kessel (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Toronto Maple Leafs have yet to decide whether to buy or sell at the trade deadline, and the next few weeks could be the deciding factor as Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, and Cody Franson draw interest. Meanwhile, the Calgary Flames could be after Mike Richards, and the Carolina Hurricanes have to decide what to do with Alexander Semin.
The Toronto rumor mill continues to churn with speculation over possible moves by the struggling Maple Leafs leading up to the March trade deadline. TSN's Darren Dreger believes the next few weeks will determine if the Leafs become deadline buyers or sellers.
Over the weekend, the Toronto Star's Kevin McGran cited a source claiming the Leafs were quietly shopping defenseman Dion Phaneuf, winger Phil Kessel and others exclusively to Western Conference teams. McGran claimed nothing was imminent, suggesting interested clubs could wait until the deadline to pursue Phaneuf and Kessel because of their hefty contracts.
Even then, McGran speculates the Leafs could retain them, citing the limited no-trade clauses in both contracts. Since the report appeared, Phaneuf is listed week-to-week with a suspected hand injury, which could dampen the recent trade chatter about the Leafs captain.
Trading players carrying lengthy term on expensive contracts during the season is rare in today's salary-cap world, especially those in the first year of such deals. If the Leafs decide to trade Kessel or Phaneuf, they'll most likely do so during the off-season, when teams have more cap space and willingness to deal.
Cody Franson's eligibility for unrestricted free agency in July is making him a hot topic for trade speculation. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun believes it's possible the Leafs could make an offer soon to the 27-year-old Franson and his agent but doubts it'll match what they could receive this summer on the open market. If a deal isn't reached by the trade deadline, LeBrun expects Franson will be moved.
RICHARDS COMING TO CANADA?
Trade chatter persists over Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards, who was demoted to the minors after clearing waivers earlier this week. The Calgary Sun's Eric Francis cites a source claiming Flames GM Brad Treliving had interest in acquiring the 29-year-old veteran.
According to Francis, the Flames are among the few NHL teams with sufficient cap space to absorb Richards' $5.75-million annual cap hit, but only if it makes sense on other levels. In other words, by doing the Kings a favor and taking Richards' hefty deal off their books, the Flames want something else included in the return.
Francis suggests that could mean including a good young player like Tyler Toffoli or Tanner Pearson in the return, or a first-round pick and a top prospect. Interested clubs could also want the Kings to absorb part of Richards' salary.
So far, the Kings don't seem desperate enough to go that route, which explains why Richards is now riding the buses in the AHL. A buyout this summer will count against their cap for the next ten years, but at an annual hit of over $1.4 million it still frees up considerable cap space in the short term. It's also less costly in terms of “sweeteners” other clubs will demand in a trade for Richards.
SEMIN’S SALARY HAS RUMORS FLYING
Speaking of a declining forward carrying a hefty contract, the Carolina Hurricanes appear to be running out of patience with winger Alexander Semin. The Raleigh News & Observer's Chip Alexander reports Hurricanes coach Bill Peters is growing frustrated with the 30-year-old Semin's lack of production.
A seven-time 20-plus goal scorer who's also tallied 42-or-more points eight times, Semin's managed only one goal and eight points this season. That puts him on pace for the worst numbers of his NHL career.
With three years remaining on a contract paying him $7-million annually, Semin's been a huge disappointment for the Hurricanes. Unfortunately, they have limited options in deal with him. Alexander suggests they could place Semin on waivers, demote him to their AHL affiliate in Charlotte or buy him out after the season.
GM Ron Francis told Alexander the Hurricanes won't buy out Semin. If Semin hits the waiver wire it's doubtful a rival club will claim him. Like the Kings with Richards, demoting Semin will only provide the Hurricanes with $925K of cap relief.
Francis could try to trade Semin, but with $21 million left on his contract he won't be an easy sell. The Hurricanes GM could offer to pick up part of Semin's salary, but given his reputation for inconsistency and declining production, it's unlikely he'll find many takers.
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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