Cody Franson (Abelimages/Getty Images)
With the trade deadline looming, the Toronto Maple Leafs are likely to deal pending unrestricted free agents Cody Franson, Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik. Rumors also suggest that goaltender Jonathan Bernier, Tyler Bozak and others could be available for the right price.
Anticipation is brewing in the Toronto media over potential moves by the Maple Leafs at the NHL trade deadline on March 2. The Leafs' recent minor move (shipping Carter Ashton and David Broll to Tampa Bay for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2016) is considered by most observers the first of more deals to come by deadline day.
Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun believes the Leafs are poised to blow up the roster in preparation for another lengthy rebuild. He expects they could make as many as five trades leading up to deadline day. Simmons considers defenseman Morgan Rielly and winger James van Riemsdyk as their only untouchables.
The most likely to move are defenseman Cody Franson and forwards Mike Santorelli and Daniel Winnik. The trio are eligible for unrestricted free agency in July. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman claims the Leafs are nowhere close to re-signing them.
Leafs GM Dave Nonis recently scouted the Anaheim Ducks-Nashville Predators and LA Kings-Tampa Bay Lightning games. Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun reports the Predators could try to reacquire Franson, who began his NHL career in Nashville and was dealt to the Leafs in July 2011. Longley also speculates they could also have interest in Santorelli or Winnik. The New York Post's Larry Brooks reports the Rangers could use Santorelli to bolster their checking lines.
The Kings are in need of blueline help. Slava Voynov remains suspended pending the outcome of his domestic violence trial and Alec Martinez is sidelined with concussion symptoms. Franson could prove attractive as a rental player but cap space could be an issue unless the Leafs agree to retain part of his remaining salary.
Friedman also reports center Tyler Bozak could be in play. Bozak, 28, is signed through 2017-18 at an annual cap hit of $4.2 million. He usually centers the Leafs first line and is close with with winger Phil Kessel. Simmons speculates interested teams could include the Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Winnipeg Jets, Boston Bruins or Vancouver Canucks.
Bozak's contract, however, is a no-go for cap-strapped teams like the Blackhawks and Bruins who have key players to re-sign. The Ducks already have two quality centers in Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. The Jets or Canucks could use some offensive depth so perhaps there's a fit with one of them.
Putting Bozak on the block could be an attempt to clear room for a more experienced first-line center. Then again, it could also be the prelude to shipping out Kessel this summer, when there should be a broader market for his services. Simmons believes the Leafs will explore Kessel's trade value, and that of defenseman Dion Phaneuf, in the summer.
The Winnipeg Jets are reportedly entertaining offers for sidelined left wing Evander Kane. TSN's Bob McKenzie doesn't expect the Leafs to get into the bidding. He reports the Leafs have enough depth at left wing.
Friedman's colleague Jeff Blair reports of talk the Leafs might put starting goalie Jonathan Bernier on the block. Blair claims that doesn't mean backup James Reimer is better than Bernier, but that Leafs management may be second-guessing their belief in Bernier as a starting goaltender.
That assessment of Bernier and Reimer seems unduly harsh, considering they're backstopping one of the league's worst defensive teams. Pursuing a more promising or better-skilled goalie will help the Leafs win a few more games, but until they improve their defense they'll have little chance of becoming a perennial playoff team.
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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