FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Unsurprisingly, Phil Kessel is the focus of all the Toronto Maple Leafs’ trade talk.
Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan spoke a day ahead of Friday’s NHL draft about Toronto’s rebuilding plans. Between the draft, free agents and trades, Shanahan said there are dozens of possible scenarios. But one name keeps coming up regularly: Kessel.
“He’s probably garnered the most interest, he’s probably the player that’s gotten the most phone calls,” said Shanahan. “There’s a lot of interest from other teams in him and it’s well deserved. The way he’s produced over his career, over the last several years. He had a down year last year and he knows it.
“We think he’ll bounce back, other teams think he’ll bounce back, or we wouldn’t be getting phone calls.”
Kessel has been the focal point of the Maple Leafs’ offence since being acquired in a trade with the Boston Bruins on Sept. 18, 2009. He’s scored 181 goals and added 213 assists in six seasons in Toronto. Last season was statistically his worst in the Maple Leafs’ blue and white with 25 goals, 36 assists and a minus-34 rating.
He’s signed for another seven seasons, with an US$8 million cap hit for each of those years.
Shanahan laughed when it was suggested by a reporter that the asking price for Kessel had been “crazy,” saying that there had been serious talks with several teams about making a deal for the winger. He also said that the Maple Leafs had not considered taking on any of Kessel’s remaining salary in any of those potential deals.
“There’s been strong interest in not just Phil, but several of our players,” said Shanahan. “I think that, as I said at the end of the year, for whatever reason the mix hasn’t necessarily worked out well here. But we do have some strong individuals and talented players. I won’t say one way or the other who’s going to be around and who won’t.
“It’s still too early for that. All I can say is that when you have a guy like that who’s such a natural goal scorer in the prime of his career, y’know, everyone wants goal-scoring.”
Moving Kessel — or not — isn’t the only step in Shanahan’s rebuilding plan.
Toronto has the fourth overall pick on Friday as well as the 24th. Shanahan was open to trading up or down from the No. 4 spot, but expected the Maple Leafs would stand pat with that pick. He also said that there was a cluster of players around the 24th selection that Toronto had interest in, but that it was also a possibility to trade it for two second round picks.
“I think they’re all in play,” said Shanahan. “We would answer the phone on just about anything. (…) With the No. 4 pick there’s a few options different that could occur. With the No. 24 pick we’re preparing for many options depending on who goes before us.
“We’ll make that decision as we get closer. We’re trying to prepare ourselves for different scenarios that could pop up in that moment.”
He also acknowledged on Thursday that the Maple Leafs had been in talks with several general managers about approaching free agents.
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John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press