The latest on Phil Kessel, Mike Richards, Cody Franson, Andrej Sekera, Chris Stewart, Antoine Vermette, Cam Ward, Ryan O’Reilly and more.

Trade speculation over LA Kings center Mike Richards is growing.

Trade speculation over struggling LA Kings center Mike Richards is growing.

SPORTSNET.CA: Luke Fox with a collection of this week’s notable rumors. Topping the list was Nashville Predators GM David Poile coming to the defenseman of embattled Toronto Maple Leafs winger Phil Kessel, which raised eyebrows and a reminder that Poile attempted to land Kessel during the winger’s days with the Boston Bruins…Elliotte Friedman took note of the declining ice time of LA Kings center Mike Richards, speculating on his trade value. Friedman doesn’t know how much interest there is in Richards, who carries an annual cap hit of $5.75 million for the next five seasons, believing the Kings will have to retain some salary if they attempt to trade him. Friedman speculates the Kings could be calling teams like Toronto and Winnipeg to gauge their interest…Mark Spector floated the notion of the St. Louis Blues shipping Martin Brodeur to the Minnesota Wild.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Just because Poile defended Kessel doesn’t mean he’s keen to acquire him, so everyone just take a breath and relax…As for Richards, the Kings must either absorb part of his salary or agree to take back a shorter toxic contract in return. I realize some folks believe Richards will regain his form if he got more playing time with another team, but that’s making an assumption that Kings coach Darryl Sutter doesn’t appreciate the center’s abilities. There’s a very good reason why Richards is getting less playing time, and that’s because he’s no longer as effective as he once was. That’s not “hating” on Richards. It’s merely acknowledging that, after years of wear and tear, he’s wearing down…If the Wild seek an affordable short-term goalie option, Brodeur could be it. I don’t think the Blues want much in return if they decide to trade him.

NICHOLS ON HOCKEY: The spotlight is on Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, who believes pending UFA defenseman Cody Franson is the player most likely to be traded by the Maple Leafs. He also claims there’s not a lot of contract discussions between Leafs management and Franson, Jonathan Bernier and Nazem Kadri…Friedman believes the New York Rangers remain interested in Carolina Hurricanes pending UFA defenseman Andrej Sekera, but the Hurricanes remain hopeful of re-signing Sekera…The Arizona Coyotes would prefer to move center Antoine Vermette sooner rather than later, but GM Don Maloney is setting a high asking price in hopes of creating an auction for Vermette’s services. Friedman doubts the center will get a six-year deal via free agency because of his age (33), but could get a five-year one…He also claims some teams have been scared away from Buffalo Sabres winger Chris Stewart because of the Sabres’ high asking price and his $4 million-plus cap hit.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: If the Leafs fall out of contention by the trade deadline, I think Franson’s a goner. No surprise there’s been no contract talks with Franson, Bernier and Kadri, as management obviously wants to judge their respective performances this season…Not sure the Hurricanes can re-sign Sekera, who stands to cash in big via free agency this summer…It could take time for the Coyotes to find what they seek for Vermette and will likely take them up to the trade deadline to move him…As I’ve repeatedly said since November, the Sabres must lower their asking price if they want to trade Stewart.

ESPN.COM: Craig Custance disagrees with Friedman’s take, citing a source claiming Vermette’s name is out there but he’s not available right now. With a new majority owner, the Coyotes could try to re-sign the center…In the Red Wings quest for a top-four right-handed defenseman, Oilers blueliner Jeff Petry makes more sense than the expensive (in salary and asking price) Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres…Custance wants to see the Avalanche use center Ryan O’Reilly in a blockbuster deal for a defenseman.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some conflicting reports on Vermette now, with some pundits believing he’s a goner and some claiming the Coyotes will try to re-sign him. I think if Vermette intends to test this summer’s UFA market, he’ll be dealt at the March deadline…Petry could be an affordable rental option for the Wings…A blockbuster deal involving O’Reilly probably won’t happen until the offseason.

NHL.COM: Dan Rosen, responding to reader e-mail, wouldn’t be surprised if the Islanders pursue a top-line left wing and perhaps a depth defenseman by the trade deadline…Given the lack of depth in the goalie market, Rosen isn’t sure the Minnesota Wild will trade for a netminder, especially with Darcy Kuemper and Niklas Backstrom under contract…He believes it’s a good assumption Ryan O’Reilly gets traded but doesn’t see that happening until the offseason, where there will be more trade options for the Avalanche. Teams like the Devils and Senators could use O’Reilly. He doesn’t think there’s a chance of a swap of O’Reilly for Washington’s Mike Green…Rosen expects the Hurricanes will shed pending free agents like Jiri Tlusty, Tim Gleason, Jay McClement and even Andrej Sekera, and thinks trading Cam Ward could be explored.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: I think Isles GM Garth Snow will keep watch on the trade market leading up to the deadline for any deal which can help his club. He’s more likely to add a depth defenseman as the bidding for a top-line left wing will be expensive…Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is reportedly making calls for help between the pipes and for depth players…I also doubt we’ll see a swap of O’Reilly for Green…The Hurricanes will start dumping some UFAs at the deadline, with Sekera and Tlusty to attract the most interest. 

KUKLA’S KORNER: Cited several tweets from NewObserver.com’s Chip Alexander regarding comments by Hurricanes GM Ron Francis on the recent Cam Ward trade rumors. Francis didn’t specifically address the “Ward to the Wild” rumors but noted teams are calling in search of help between the pipes. He also noted Ward’s no-trade clause.

NBC SPORTS: Jason Brough believes Cam Ward isn’t the answer to the Wild’s ongoing troubles in the crease, claiming the 30-year-old netminder hasn’t been a good goalie for some time. Buffalo’s Jhonas Enroth has also been linked to the Wild, but though he carries a more affordable contract he’s been struggling of late.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: There really isn’t many suitable options available for the Wild. Even Brodeur, who would be affordable, isn’t the goalie he once way and won’t fully address their need for stability in goal. 

EDMONTON SUN: Derek Van Diest reports Oilers pending UFA defenseman Jeff Petry is in trade rumor limbo as speculation over his future increases.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: He won’t be for long. Very simply, if Petry decides to test the UFA market , the Oilers will trade him by March rather than lose him for nothing in July.