Mike Augello: Number Nine; Franson, Leafs Far Apart As Deadline Approaches

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The 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday capped arguably the most horrendous month in the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto could not overcome defenseman Michael Del Zotto’s first period goal or get the puck past Flyers goalie Steve Mason to prevent their ninth straight loss and fourth shutout in January, a month in which the club finished with a 1-11-1 record and scored just 16 goals.

“The guys did work hard, we got some shots and some chances.” Leafs interim coach Peter Horachek said after the game. “I think to find your way out of this situation we’re going to have to start spending more time getting more people at the net. We’re going to have to spend more time driving to the net because they’re tough to buy right now.”

The level of frustration on the Leafs is so high that it is visibly showing on the faces of the players after nearly every missed scoring opportunity. An uncharacteristically short-fused Phil Kessel took a retaliatory penalty on Philly’s Claude Giroux in the second period and raised his eyes to the sky after missing on a chance to tie the game after an offensive zone faceoff win with 5.4 seconds left in regulation.

Horachek have trouble staying positive? “We don’t like it, but I don’t think this is cancer. This is not something life threatening.”

— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) February 1, 2015

One of the few high points on Saturday was the performance of young blueliners Morgan Rielly and Petter Granberg. The 20-year-old Rielly was the best Toronto player on the evening, playing nearly 22 minutes in the absence of team captain Dion Phaneuf and creating many of the Leafs best scoring chances.

The 22-year-old Granberg played 12:43 on the bottom pairing, but displayed good mobility and a physical edge, crumpling Flyers star forward Jakub Voracek with a check.

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Wild Card race

1. BOSTON 61, 2. WASHINGTON 60, 3. FLORIDA 52, 4. PHILADELPHIA 51, 5. OTTAWA 49, 6. TORONTO 48.

Leafs odds of making the playoffs (0.8% per sportsclubstats.com)

McEichel Race

7. TORONTO 48, 6. NEW JERSEY 47, 5. COLUMBUS 45, 4. CAROLINA 40, 3. ARIZONA 40, 2. EDMONTON 35, 1. BUFFALO 31

Leafs odds at winning Draft Lottery(6.5%)

Friday’s results: New Jersey moves to one point behind Toronto with win over Florida, Carolina, Columbus, Arizona and Edmonton all lose.

******* Rumor Updates

Contract talks between the Leafs and defenseman Cody Franson appear to be at a point where Toronto is more likely to trade the pending unrestricted free agent than sign him to a long term contract extension.

The Leafs would like to extend the right-handed shooting 26-year-old blueliner, who is having a career year offensively with six goals and 23 assists in 48 games, but Franson’s representatives are currently not showing any interest in re-signing with Toronto for a hometown discount.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday that Franson had balked at the Leafs offer of $4.6 Million per season on a multi-year deal, which is well below the dollars that free agents Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen signed for with Washington last summer.

Toronto appears to be preparing themselves for the eventuality that they cannot afford to pay Franson. Leafs Assistant GM Mark Hunter was scouting the Red Wings-Islanders game in Uniondale Saturday afternoon and a scout for the Los Angeles Kings was present at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday.

Kings executive Mike Futa took in the Coyotes – Leafs game on Thursday, while Nonis and pro scout Steve Kasper were in attendance in Manchester, NH Friday night for the Kings AHL affiliate’s game against the Portland Pirates.

Detroit is known to be pursuing a right-handed defenseman and has a stockpile of young prospects that gives them the option trading prospects or picks for a need on the blueline, while Los Angeles is looking to add a defenseman with the status of suspended defenseman Slava Voynov up in the air but cannot take on a long term salary like Phaneuf.

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The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch indicates in his weekend column that Leafs GM Dave Nonis will consider all trade options other than forward James van Riemsdyk and defenseman Morgan Rielly prior to March 2nd and that the Leafs are being heavily scouted by other NHL clubs leading up to the deadline.

Garrioch says that big moves for Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf are more likely to occur this summer, but the names of Joffrey Lupul, Mike Santorelli, Leo Komarov, Cody Franson and Korbinian Holzer are being mentioned as possible trade targets.

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Super Bowl Prediction

New England – 20, Seattle 17 *******If you are interested in sponsorship or advertising your business in the Greater Toronto / Southern Ontario area on this column, please send a message for more information by clicking on the “Contact” button at the top of the page.*******

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