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.

Senators sign Methot to four-year, $19.6M extension

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You don’t often see NHL teams divulging contract details, but it seems like the Ottawa Senators are just that excited about keeping defenseman Marc Methot in the fold.

The team announced his four-year, $19.6 million extension on Monday. That works out to a $4.9 million cap hit starting in the 2015-16 season.

Ottawa also provided the blueliner with a modified 10-team no-trade clause. At 29, he gets a nice amount of freedom in dictating his future if the Senators decide to part ways.

ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun indicates that Methot compromised on term (he reportedly wanted a five or six-year pact) while the Senators bumped up his salary.

There was some concern that the Senators wouldn’t get a deal done with the then-pending unrestricted free agent, but it’s clear he wanted to stay in Ottawa. With Cody Franson dealt to the Nashville Predators, the trade market continues to dry up when it comes to defensemen.

Methot has had a rough 2014-15 campaign in some respects, collecting five assists while being limited to just 17 games played. (That said, his possession stats have been strong this season.)

He’s currently in his third season with the Senators after playing with the Columbus Blue Jackets for six years. His previous cap hit was $3 million, so this is a healthy bump for the blueliner.

Report: Habs’ Gonchar to miss game vs. Red Wings

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Montreal Canadiens defenseman Sergei Gonchar is expected to miss Monday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings due to an upper body injury.

Gonchar suffered the injury Saturday night thanks to a first period hit from Leafs’ forward David Clarkson.

Clarkson was assessed a major penalty for interference, five for fighting and a game misconduct on the play.

According to Lavoie, Clarkson isn’t expected to face supplemental discipline for the hit.

Gonchar has 12 points in 38 games this season while registering a plus-8 rating and averaging 18:37 in ice time.

Predators waive Stalberg (again)

Big moves like David Clarkson’s terrible contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs get a lot of attention, yet there are often under-the-radar signings that are pretty lousy in their own right.

Many were excited when the Nashville Predators added Viktor Stalberg to the mix, but he just hasn’t worked out. He was placed on waivers for the second time in 2015 on Sunday, according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie.

The Predators also reassigned Anthony Bitetto on a busy day for the organization.

In other waiver news, the New York Islanders moved bruising defenseman Matt Carkner from IR to waivers.

The last bit of minor news is that the Dallas Stars sent Travis Morin to the AHL on Sunday, the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika reports.

Loading up: Predators acquire Franson, Santorelli from Leafs

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The Nashville Predators opened up a healthy lead ahead of the rest of the NHL on Saturday and then threw down the gauntlet on Sunday.

In a big trade, the Predators acquired Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Olli Jokinen, Brendan Leipsic and Nashville’s 2015 first-round draft pick.

One interesting twist to this move is that both Franson and Santorelli will already have some familiarity with their situation, as they both played for the Predators before.

The Predators selected Franson, 27, with the 79th pick of the 2005 NHL Draft. He showed promise in his first two seasons with Nashville before being traded to Toronto in a package that also highlighted Matthew Lombardi.

(Let’s just say the Maple Leafs came out on top in that one.)

In a shallow free agent market, Franson is one of the most desirable defensive targets. Toronto couldn’t come to terms with him, and it remains to be seen if Nashville can (or even aims to). In the interim, the Predators’ already-loaded defense adds another dangerous scoring threat.

The Predators selected Santorelli, 29, with a sixth-round pick (178th overall) in 2004. He’s bounced around the league a bit, yet his efforts stood out on a troubled Toronto team.

From Toronto’s perspective, the best parts of the trade are focused on the future. More specifically, the Predators’ first-round pick is likely the gem of this deal, even if it’s probably going to be a late selection.

Brendan Leipsic was the 89th pick of the 2012 Draft. The 20-year-old’s the other main takeway for Toronto, as he’s shown some potential with 35 points in 47 AHL games and some big WHL numbers.

Jokinen provides some veteran experience, yet he was often lost in the Nashville mix. Apparently joining the Buds hasn’t improved his mood.

To little surprise, it sounds like the Maple Leafs still have some work to do, as multiple reporters point to Daniel Winnik as another target for contenders.

It’s easy to see where both teams are coming from here, with the Leafs continuing to build for 2015-16 (and beyond) while the Predators hope for the deepest run in franchise history.