Toronto columnist: Trade Kessel

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Toronto Star columnist Damien Cox thinks the Maple Leafs should trade their “ill-conditioned, isolated, troubled or simply massively unlucky” sniper, Phil Kessel.

The column’s timing is no surprise. Kessel doesn’t have a goal in his first five games. And while the 25-year-old’s dry streak isn’t for a lack of chances, it’s still a major topic of conversation in Toronto.

The column also comes just weeks after general manager Brian Burke – the man who acquired Kessel from Boston in a much-criticized trade – was fired.

Here’s how Cox sees it:

Kessel cost the Leafs a great deal, as much, perhaps, in prestige as in actual assets. Indeed, that deal may ultimately have cost Burke his job.

That’s not to blame Kessel for the state of the team, although as the star forward, he has to shoulder his fair share.

Personality-wise, this just hasn’t been a fit. Like Andrea Bargnani, he could be a nice secondary piece on a good team.

On a young, struggling team, however, he can’t be the front man.

Beyond that, if you’re the Leafs, you don’t want to be the team that has to figure out what to pay Kessel once his current deal ends at the conclusion of next season.

At a $5.4 million cap hit ($5.1 million in real money this season), he’s affordable given his stats and goal-scoring ability.

At $7 million, or $8 million, it will be much different. And that’s what he’ll be able to demand.

Agree or disagree with Cox’s take, don’t expect the debate to go away anytime soon. That is, unless new GM Dave Nonis comes out and says a trade isn’t going to happen. (And even then, is Nonis telling the truth?)

Of course, it should be noted Nonis just signed Kessel’s line mate, Joffrey Lupul, to a five-year, $26.25 million contract extension – a move the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle called a “clear indication” that Nonis wants to keep Kessel.

Habs sign Mark Streit — is he Markov’s replacement?

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The Montreal Canadiens have signed 39-year-old defenseman Mark Streit to a one-year contract worth a reported $700,000.

This will actually be Streit’s second stint with the Habs. He started his NHL career in Montreal, all the way back in 2005.

Streit split last season between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. In the playoffs, he only appeared in three games for the Penguins, all of them in the Eastern Conference Final against Ottawa when Justin Schultz was hurt.

What the Streit signing means for Andrei Markov remains to be seen. Streit, like Markov, can run a power play, so it’s tempting to conclude that Streit is Markov’s replacement.

That being said, almost all of Streit’s contract could be buried in the AHL if necessary, so that conclusion may be premature. This could even be a move by GM Marc Bergevin to gain leverage and convince Markov to sign.

Markov, 38, remains an unrestricted free agent. The Canadiens want him back, but only at a certain price.

Devils give Mirco Mueller two-year extension

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The New Jersey Devils have signed defenseman Mirco Mueller to a two-year contract extension with a cap hit of $850,000.

Mueller, a first-round draft pick of the Sharks in 2013, has only played 54 NHL games, scoring two goals with four assists. In June, after spending most of 2016-17 in the AHL, San Jose traded the 22-year-old to the Devils.

In New Jersey, Mueller should get a good chance to crack a rebuilding roster.

“Mirco is adding another piece to what we’re trying to build here,” Devils coach John Hynes said, per NJ.com. “He’s a young player, he can play with pace. He’s a very good skater. He’s got size, which is something we need on the back end. He makes a good first pass. He allows you to get out of your own zone because he can break out, he can end plays defensively, get possession, make the pass to be able to transition yourself out of defensive situations.”

The Devils have also re-signed goalie Scott Wedgewood and forward Joseph Blandisi.

Rangers lock up Zibanejad for next five years

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The New York Rangers have locked up a key piece of their future, signing center Mika Zibanejad to a five-year deal with a cap hit of $5.35 million.

Zibanejad had an arbitration hearing scheduled for today, but that won’t be required anymore.

The 24-year-old had 14 goals and 23 assists in 56 games last season. It was his first year in New York after getting traded from Ottawa for Derick Brassard.

With Derek Stepan in Arizona now, Zibanejad is arguably the Rangers’ No. 1 center. Kevin Hayes is in that conversation as well, and perhaps Lias Andersson will be soon.

But getting Zibanejad signed long term was a top priority for GM Jeff Gorton this offseason. Hayes can become a restricted free agent next summer, but that’s a bridge to cross at a later date.

Related: Andersson to get ‘every opportunity’ to make Rangers next season

Avalanche reportedly settle with Nieto, avoiding arbitration

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Matt Nieto won’t need his arbitration hearing on Monday.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Nieto has agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract with the Colorado Avalanche.

Nieto split last season between San Jose and Colorado, which claimed him off waivers in January.

In 43 games for the Avalanche, the 24-year-old forward scored seven goals with four assists.

Nieto was the only Colorado player on this summer’s arbitration list. However, the Avs still have a restricted free agent in Nikita Zadorov, who could be off to the KHL next season.