Names on press box seating charts and trips to AHL outposts take on increased meaning and pique the speculation of possible trades prior to the March 2nd NHL trade deadline. That is the fun about this time of year, trying to put the pieces together as if playing a game of Clue and determining whether Kevin “Col. Mustard” Cheveldayoff scouting the quiet library-like environs of the Leafs – Devils game in Newark Wednesday carrying a candlestick meant that the Jets GM has interest in Daniel Winnik.
Such was the case on Friday, as Leafs GM Dave Nonis and pro scout Steve Kasper were in attendance in Manchester, NH at the Monarchs-Portland Pirates game. Speculation rose quickly that the trip was directly connected to continued interest in Los Angeles center Mike Richards and his debut for the Kings AHL affiliate, but the scouting sojourn had been planned weeks in advance of the two-time Stnaley Cup winner’s demotion.
In other words he didn’t booked the trip because Mike Richards was sent down this week!
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) January 30, 2015
There are good reasons to think that the Leafs and Kings could be close to consummating a deal of some sort. GM Dean Lombardi and Nonis have made two trades in the recent past; a three-player deal for goalie Jonathan Bernier in June 2013 and a swap of minor leaguers Andrew Crescenzi for Brandon Kozun last January,
Los Angeles is looking to add a defenseman with the status of suspended defenseman Slava Voynov up in the air and Toronto is open to moving pending UFA Cody Franson, team captain Dion Phaneuf, veteran Stephane Robidas or Jake Gardiner for the right price.
Interest in Richards from Toronto does not add up unless the Kings are willing to pick up a significant portion of his $5.75 Million deal for the remaining five years of the deal or if they are willing to take back a contract with term remaining from the Leafs(Joffrey Lupul, David Clarkson or Dion Phaneuf) and that defeats the purpose of LA moving Richards to clear cap space to get youngsters Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson signed to bridge deals and extend franchise center Anzi Kopitar after 2016.
Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston indicated that Kings executive Mike Futa was at Air Canada Center for Thursday’s Coyotes-Leafs game, which would make more of a case for interest in Franson or Gardiner(as Phaneuf and Robidas are currently out injured).
Toronto is clearly in full-sell mode four weeks out from the trade deadline, but for purposes of trying to get the best return for players they are likely going to move, Team President Brendan Shanahan, Nonis and the Leafs management staff are putting up the façade of not having the “For Sale” sign up at 40 Bay St. just yet.
There is interest in re-signing pending UFA’s Winnik, Franson and Mike Santorelli to long-term deals, but only if they agree to a price well under what they will get as free agents in July.
The future of Dave Nonis continues to be a main point of conjecture, since the Leafs GM will be heavily involved in any moves that the club makes in the next month.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie speculated in a radio appearance on Friday that Shanahan would like to bring in Kings Asst. GM Rob Blake as the new GM this summer, whom he worked with at the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
McKenzie does not think that it is likely that the Hall-of-Fame defenseman would be willing to move from Southern California and that current Asst. GM Mark Hunter or an outside candidate are more likely to replace Nonis at the end of the season.
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