The Toronto Maple Leafs appear headed for a full roster blowup, and Phil Kessel could be the next major domino to fall. Kessel is said to be drawing interest from several teams, and the Florida Panthers appear to be one of the teams taking a hard look at him.
Toronto Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel remains the subject of intense trade speculation leading up to the March trade deadline. Despite his hefty contract ($8 million-annually for the next seven seasons), there's reports he's attracting interest from several NHL teams.
On Monday, Leafs GM Dave Nonis told Sportsnet's Hockey Central panel the 27-year-old Kessel lacks a full no-trade clause. Nonis admitted the Leafs “have teams we can trade him to,” claiming they have the flexibility to change their team. Despite having discussions with other clubs, Nonis notes stars like Kessel carrying expensive contracts tend to move in the off-season, “if at all.”
Sun-Sentinel.com's Harvey Fialkov believes Kessel would love to play for the Florida Panthers, as he lives in South Florida during the summer. Fialkov notes the Panthers have depth in young talent to interest the Leafs, though he doesn't believe Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon will part with defenseman Aaron Ekblad or forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad or Brandon Pirri.
Fialkov notes Tallon has plenty of defense prospects, even suggesting Erik Gudbranson might be available. He claims Gudbranson hasn't really taken major strides toward becoming the franchise blueliner they thought he'd be.
Tallon quickly downplayed the notion of Kessel joining the Panthers by the trade deadline. He told Fialkov’s colleague Craig Davis his intent is to stay the course, citing his club's bright future while noting they remain in playoff contention this season. While acknowledging his club could use a sniper, he's unwilling to part with the young assets necessary to land one. TSN's Bob McKenzie reports Tallon hasn't had any specific talks with Leafs GM Dave Nonis regarding Kessel.
Adding a proven sniper like Kessel would be a significant boost to the Panthers, who are among this season's lowest-scoring teams. The media-shy winger could thrive away from the harsh spotlight in Toronto.
As long as Tallon is unwilling to part with one of his promising young forwards as part of a return for Kessel, there really isn't a deal to be made. Even if Tallon changes his mind, Kessel must be willing to accept a trade to the Panthers, who must ensure they can comfortably absorb his contract.
Panthers forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Scottie Upshall, Tomas Kopecky and Sean Bergenheim are eligible for unrestricted free agency in July and probably won't fit into the club's plans. That could free up sufficient space to pursue Kessel in the off-season. The Ottawa Sun's Bruce Garrioch believes the four will be available by the trade deadline.
First out the door could be Bergenheim. Fialkov reports the winger's agent recently requested a trade, citing his client being a frequent healthy scratch. The Panthers hope to clear roster room to promote youngsters like Vincent Trocheck, Rocco Grimaldi and Quinton Howden.
Given the concerns over a lower-than-expected salary cap for 2015-16, Tallon could prefer to wait until June to determine how much space he actually has. Nonis, meanwhile, will likely wait until the summer to move Kessel, when there could be more suitors for his services.
BUFFALO STILL GETTING CALLS ABOUT STEWART
Buffalo Sabres winger Chris Stewart remains a fixture in the rumor mill leading up to the trade deadline. The Boston Bruins seek a top-six right wing and have had interest in the 27-year-old Stewart for some time.
The Bruins, however, could face some competition to land Stewart. The Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa reports the Calgary Flames have the veteran winger “in their crosshairs”. The Flames are in a tight battle for a playoff berth in the Western Conference and want to get bigger at forward.
It's rumored Sabres GM Tim Murray seeks a first- or second-round draft pick in 2015 plus a prospect for Stewart. The Flames have considerable depth in young talent, but there's no certainty they'll pony up the Sabres' asking price.
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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