Could Maple Leafs veterans Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak inevitably follow Phil Kessel out of Toronto this season?
TORONTO STAR: Damien Cox recently reported there’s “a palpable sense” this season could be the last in Toronto for Maple Leafs veterans Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri “unless they can demonstrate to the team’s braintrust they deserve and want to be Leafs.” While all have said they want to be, they must now prove it on the ice. Cox also suggested that the Leafs recent acquisition of winger Michael Grabner, who’s a UFA in July, indicates they’re gunning for a playoff spot.
TORONTO SUN: Lance Hornby reports Leafs coach Mike Babcock isn’t sure if center Tyler Bozak is a top-line player without former linemate Phil Kessel. Babcock claims they’re going to make Bozak a better two-way player. The center acknowledged he’s been the subject of trade rumors “for six years now,” but claims he’s excited about the club’s offseason changes and the upcoming season.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: I have no doubt that, had there been willing buyers for Phaneuf, Lupul, Kadri and Bozak during the offseason, all would be skating with new clubs this season. If the media rumor mill is to be believed (and some of them were respected pundits), there was varying degrees of interest in those four, but a number of factors (salary, health, potential and current abilities) dampend their trade value. It also appears that, unless there were substantial returns coming the other way, the front office seemed uncomfortable with the complete roster teardown so many of us expected this summer.
So, after trading away everyone’s favorite whipping boy in Kessel (who, despite his flaws, was still the Leafs best player), the current brain trust will evaluate the remaining veterans to determine their respective futures in Toronto. Perhaps they’ll all improve under Babcock. Perhaps not. Some of them, possibly all four, could reappear in the rumor mill by midseason.
As for Grabner, that move was made more to shed some contracts and make room for other potential signings or additions before the start of training camp, not to make a run for the playoffs. Grabner will most likely be used as a trade chip later in the season to add a draft pick or a prospect.