Plenty of Phil Kessel trade talk in Toronto today

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Following yesterday’s deal of Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to Nashville — which some saw as the first in potentially long series of moves — Toronto turned its collective focus today to an even bigger piece of trade bait:

Phil Kessel.

First, GM Dave Nonis appeared on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central to address the Kessel rumors, just days after Kessel dropped his “if it’s not here, it’s not here” answer to questions about his future in Toronto.

“Yes, we signed Phil long-term; we think he’s a good player. I think he’s still top-20 in goals this year despite the fact he’s had a difficult time lately, but he doesn’t have a [full] no-trade,” Nonis explained. “We do have teams we can trade him to. You need to have some flexibility to change your team, and we have that.”

Moving Kessel, who’s under contract through 2022 at $8 million per, would be a tall task for Nonis, which is why the Leafs GM tempered trade enthusiasm with the reality that, more often than not, players of Kessel’s ilk tend to get moved in the summer.

“Players that are at that end of the pay scale usually get moved in the off-season, if at all,” he explained. “Very few get moved in the season, but we have had discussions with other teams.”

But with the cat out of the bag (and roaming around the house at will, to continue the analogy) it’s not surprising that rumored suitors are beginning to surface. One of those, apparently, is the Florida Panthers — all of which started with a tweet from Sun-Sentinel beat writer Harvey Fialkov.

On the surface, the deal would make some sense. The Panthers struggle to score goals — currently sitting 25th in the league at 2.36 per game — and Kessel, one of the game’s premier snipers, would provide an immediate boost in that department (and, lest we forget, the Panthers sit just three points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference heading into tonight’s play.)

Fialkov also said he spoke with Kessel at the All-Star Game about playing in Florida.

“I asked Phil point blank would he like to play for the Panthers, and his face lit up,” Fialkov explained. “He has a summer home in South Florida.”

While the actuality of Kessel going to Florida prior to the deadline seems far-fetched — would the Leafs really settle for anything less than one of, or some of, the Panthers’ promising youngsters? — today’s banter foreshadowed how crazy will likely get as Mar. 2 draws closer. The Kessel sweepstakes are officially on.