What does the future hold for Phaneuf and Kessel?

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Just because the contract situations of Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel aren’t presently on the “front-burner” of Toronto general manager Dave Nonis doesn’t mean Maple Leafs fans aren’t thinking about them.

Both Phaneuf, the captain, and Kessel, the team’s top scorer, can become unrestricted free agents at the end of 2013-14, at which point both would be in line for big pay days.

It may be that both end up re-signing in Toronto. Per CapGeek, the Leafs only have 10 players under contract for 2014-15 for a total cap payroll of just over $31 million. (That leaves around $33 million in cap space.)

However, if there’s one that’s more likely to stay long-term than the other, most feel it’s Kessel. Not only is the 25-year-old one of the premier snipers in the NHL, Nonis also just gave a big contract extension to Tyler Bozak, Kessel’s center and good friend.

Kessel, not a big talker at his most chatty, didn’t share much when asked recently about his contract situation.

“I haven’t even thought about it yet,” he said. “I’ve still got another year here and we’ll see what happens.”

But his good buddy Bozak is confident he’ll be back.

“He’s been the leader of our team on the ice and hopefully he can stay there for as long as he can and I know he enjoys it there; I know it’s his favourite place to be,” Bozak said last month, per Sportsnet. “I think if the money’s right he’s gonna stay for sure.”

As for Phaneuf, well, if the amount of trade speculation is any indication, there’s reason to believe he could be on his way out.

Not that the 28-year-old is coming off a poor season. In fact, he had 28 points in 48 games while averaging 25:11 of ice time per game. But the occasional (or frequent, depending who you ask) defensive gaffe — like the one in Game 4 of the Leafs’ first-round series versus Boston — has the tendency to bring the knives out in a big way.

There’s also Toronto’s sizable crop of young d-men to consider. With Carl Gunnarsson (26 years old), Jake Gardiner (23), Cody Franson (25), and Morgan Rielly (19) in the mix, perhaps the Leafs would be better served trading Phaneuf and spending the money they’d save elsewhere.

That’s all for Nonis to decide. And he’s got plenty of time to make the decision. It could be this all plays out like it did in Anaheim this past season when Cory Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, two big pending UFAs, didn’t sign extensions with the Ducks until March, only weeks before the trade deadline.

More Leafs day on PHT:

Leafs need Kadri to take another step

Bozak, Clarkson contracts were big gambles for Nonis

Reimer vs Bernier — Who ya got?

Into the fire: Halak, recalled yesterday, starts for Isles in Pittsburgh

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A little scene setting for you.

New York heads into tonight’s massive game in Pittsburgh sitting two points back of Boston for the final wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Isles have two games in hand on the B’s — who are idle tonight — so a win could move them into a playoff spot.

As such, the Isles will start a goalie that hasn’t played in the NHL in 85 days.

Against the league’s highest-scoring offense.

The goalie in question is Jaroslav Halak, who’s spent the last three months playing for the Isles’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport. Recalled yesterday, Halak will now face big league competition for the first time since Dec. 29, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a loss to Minnesota.

(Afterward, then-head coach Jack Capuano ripped Halak, saying he gave up “some soft goals to start” and “wasn’t sharp at all.”)

But Halak’s been really good in Bridgeport.

He’s posted a 17-7-1 record with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage, and a pair of shutouts. And given how spotty Berube’s play has been as Greiss’ backup, the Isles really had no other choice than to recall Halak.

The club is in the midst of a compacted part of the schedule. Greiss was excellent in Wednesday’s win over the Rangers — stopping 34 of 36 shots in a 3-2 victory — but he was also busy.

The Isles are in Pittsburgh tonight, then host the Bruins on Saturday — another massive game — then host the Preds on Monday. It’s a compact part of the schedule, and Berube’s struggles have rendered him virtually unplayable, given how meaningful the games are (and, to borrow a timeless cliche, how vital points are at this time of the year.)

So it’s Halak tonight, and possibly more down the stretch.

For Tuukka Rask and the Bruins, a ‘bad goal’ at the worst possible time

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The growing ranks of Tuukka Rask detractors gained some serious ammunition during last night’s loss to Tampa Bay.

The deciding goal in the 6-3 defeat was a “bad one,” according to Rask and most anyone else who was watching.

It may have been a hard shot by Jonathan Drouin, unleashed at the top of the circle, but it still should’ve been stopped.

After the game, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters that Rask “needed to be better tonight.”

In fact, Rask hasn’t been very good the past few months. Since Jan. 1, his save percentage is just .888. But with nobody trustworthy behind him, he’s had to just play through his struggles.

It’s impossible to say if Rask’s numbers would be better if the Bruins had a more capable backup. He’d be more rested, though. And when he was struggling, the coach would at least have another option to consider. With an .897 save percentage on the season, Anton Khudobin simply hasn’t been reliable enough to garner that consideration.

Don’t expect Rask to get the next game off. Saturday in Brooklyn, the Bruins — losers of four straight in regulation, and suddenly on the verge of falling out of the playoff picture — face the Islanders in arguably the biggest game of both teams’ seasons.

Bolts recall Koekkoek, putting Garrison’s status into doubt

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The Tampa Bay Lightning, after earning a big win last night in Boston, may not have defenseman Jason Garrison tonight in Detroit.

The Bolts recalled d-man Slater Koekkoek from AHL Syracuse this morning — a move that would seem to put Garrison’s status into doubt against the Red Wings.

Garrison was forced to leave the Bruins game in the second period with a lower-body injury.

Koekkoek has played 29 games for the Lightning this season, recording no goals and four assists.

Melnyk blasts ‘whiner’ Crosby, who won’t face hearing for Methot slash

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Sidney Crosby won’t face a disciplinary hearing for his slash on Ottawa d-man Marc Methot, an NHL spokesman confirmed — news that won’t be welcomed by Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

The incident occurred during Ottawa’s 2-1 win on Thursday night, and forced Methot from the game with a bloodied, lacerated finger. The club later announced that Methot would be “out for weeks” with the injury.

Crosby’s slash came two nights after he speared Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly below the belt. It should be noted that neither the O’Reilly spear or Methot slash resulted in penalty calls, and neither was subjected to supplementary discipline.

One individual that’s guaranteed to be upset with today’s news is Melynk. He appeared on TSN 1200 radio this morning and seemed to suggest the league was looking into the Crosby-Methot incident.

He also had a few choice words for No. 87: