NHL Trade Rumors: 15 Players Who Might Push the Leafs into the Playoff Race

Jon Neely@@iamjonneelyAnalyst INovember 29, 2010

NHL Trade Rumors: 15 Players Who Might Push the Leafs into the Playoff Race

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    NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 23:  Travis Zajac #19 of the New Jersey Devils celebrates his first goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets with his teammates at the Prudential Center on March 23, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Saying the Toronto Maple Leafs need help this season before they can make a legitimate push for the playoffs is not a shock to anyone. They've shown improvements on defense, and the goal tending too—-a major step forward since Vesa Toskala packed his bags and left Toronto, but there are still a ton of questions up front.

    They're one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, their power play is dismal most nights, and until they get a certified top six center man, they're not going to be as dangerous as they need to be to make a push for the playoffs.

    When it comes to trades, Brian Burke doesn't have a whole lot to work with as far as who he can ship out, because he's dealing with big contracts, no-trade clauses or just plain not enough skill when it comes to players on his team he'd be willing to give up.

    But after last season's blockbuster moves it would be stupid to put it past Burke to make a significant move this season and bring in some much needed offense before the team possibly falls out of contention.

    Here are 15 players who could be on their way to Toronto this season and help them make a push into the playoff race, in no particular order.

Wayne Simmonds

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    GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 21:  Wayne Simmonds #17 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates after scoring a second period goal against the Phoenix Coyotes during the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on October 21, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Peters
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Born and raised in Scarbourough, Ontario, Wayne Simmonds probably wouldn't be the most disappointed player in the world if he were to be traded to the Maple Leafs at some point in his career.

    Those Leafs probably wouldn't be disappointed at all if that point was sometime during this season.

    He's been a steady, hard-working, efficient player for the Los Angeles Kings, and though he hasn't put up the biggest numbers, he is fighting for ice time with some seriously talented forwards on his team.

    He would get more ice time and a more important role with the Leafs and certainly would get a chance to play in front of plenty of family and friends back in his hometown.

    He's not the 30-goal scorer the team is looking for, but his style of play is exactly the kind that Burke likes on his teams, and he'd add more toughness and size to a team that needs it badly up front.

Brandon Dubinsky

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    NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 17:  Brandon Dubinsky #17 of the New York Rangers celebrates scoring a goal against  the Boston Bruins during their game on November 17, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    He's just 24-years-old, plays center, is a great energy player and is a restricted free agent at the end of this season. After proving to be a valuable asset to the New York Rangers, you can imagine he'll be wanting a raise from the $1.85 million he currently makes, and if the rumours are true and the Rangers are in the hunt for Brad Richards, then Brandon Dubinsky may find he leaves the Big Apple sooner than he may have thought.

    With 12 goals this season already, he's on pace to have the best year of his career and if there's one player on the Rangers who the Leafs would want to get their hands on, it just might be him.

    He's got first line potential, is a great two-way player and has the skills to score 20-plus goals a season, which is exactly what Burke is looking to bring in to his woeful offense.

    The Leafs need a boost up the middle, and Dubinsky is the kind of player that would add just that, while bringing a tough, gritty side to him as well.

Devin Setoguchi

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    CHICAGO - MAY 21:  Devin Setoguchi #16 of the San Jose Sharks moves the puck while taking on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 21, 2010 in Chicago, Il
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    It's now or never for the San Jose Sharks. If this season is not the one that has them skating around the ice in June hoisting the Stanley Cup above their heads, you've got to think management will do something about it and make some big changes to a club that's never been good enough to win it all.

    Devin Setoguchi could be one of the guys who is seen as expendable by the Sharks this season, as they look to make some cap room before next year. With that said, it leave an opportunity for the Leafs to possible snag him for a relatively low price.

    He's come out of the gate struggling this season, with just two goals, seven points and minus seven through 21 games thus far, which may factor in to a trade if it comes to that for the Alberta native.

    He's a former 31-goal scorer (2008-09), and when in the right situation, could be a dangerous addition to any struggling offense.

Dustin Penner

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    NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 12:  Dustin Penner #27 of the Edmonton Oiler waits for a faceoff  in a hockey game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on November 12, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
    Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

    He's been accused of lacking motivation, not hustling every shift and not always agreeing with the coaching staff's decision making in Edmonton.

    Well, if that's the case, he'll fit right in with the Maple Leafs.

    Penner had the best season of his career last year, scoring 32 goals and 63 points, and finally looking like he was ready to earn that five-year $21.25 million contract the Oilers signed him to as a free agent in 2007.

    He's probably not any team's No. 1-wanted player, but if he's on his game, with his size, he's tough to stop around the net. The Leafs need isn't really at the right wing position, but if he's for the taking, Penner would bring some much needed size to the Leafs top six and be a great addition to bang along the boards and in front of the net.

Mike Ribeiro

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    BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 10:  Mike Ribeiro #63 of the Dallas Stars skates against the Buffalo Sabres at the HSBC Arena on March 10, 2010 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    He hasn't exactly been a role model this season, as he's now a member of the athlete mugshot club, but Mike Ribeiro is still a consistent, point-producing player no matter what's happening off the ice.

    His worst statistical season was last year with the Stars, when he had just 53 points in 66 games, but if you're a team that needs a creative passing center (we're talking to you, Toronto), then Ribeiro could be a perfect fit.

    He has just three goals this year but already has amassed 16 assists through 21 games.

    The biggest reason why he or any other member of the team could be on their way out of Dallas is the ownership issues and GM Joe Nieuwendyk's potential inability to offer any more money to anyone until things are figured out at the top.

    And Ribeiro will be no stranger to what hockey is like in Toronto, as you'll remember he played the first six seasons of his career as a Montreal Canadien.

Brooks Laich

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    WASHINGTON - JANUARY 15:  Brooks Laich #21 of the Washington Capitals handles the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Verizon Center on January 15, 2010 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    It's hard to imagine what it would be like for Brooks Laich to leave the highest scoring offense in the NHL and join the lowest scoring, but that's what he'd go through if he were to be traded from the Washington Capitals to the Leafs.

    Only because he's a free agent at the end of the year does Laich come into play here, because if the Capitals are still in need of a defenseman before the deadline, he could be the kind of bait needed. The Capitals have more than a few players to sign before next season, meaning Laich could be the odd-man out in the equation.

    He's scored 20-plus goals in the past three seasons and has proven he can be an excellent energy player up the middle. He had 25 goals and 59 points last year.

    There hasn't been any talk about this as an option thus far, but judging by the circumstances, he would look great at center for the Leafs and would surely be involved in trade talks should the two clubs communicate at some point this season.

Chad LaRose

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    BOSTON - NOVEMBER 26:  Chad LaRose #59 of the Carolina Hurricanes takes a shot in the second period against the Boston Bruins on November 26, 2010 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
    Elsa/Getty Images

    He's a free agent at the end of this season, and though Chad LaRose has never been much of an offensive producer, he could be the sort of piece that would fit nicely onto a Leafs squad in serious need of some help.

    The 28-year-old is in his sixth NHL season and though his career highs in goals (19) and points (31) are nothing to write home about, the right winger does have the kind of game that might bring a punch to the lineup and for a relatively cheap price.

Tim Connolly

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    BUFFALO, NY - NOVEMBER 03:  Tim Connolly #19 of the Buffalo Sabres skates against the Boston Bruins at the HSBC Arena on November 3, 2010 in Buffalo, New York. The Bruins defeated the Sabres 5-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The last time Tim Connolly played a full 82-game season was in 2001-02, and since then has been one of the most injury-prone players in the NHL. The Buffalo Sabres have maintained faith in the speedy centerman, but it's possible that this season could be his last as a member of the Sabres.

    He managed to play in 73 games last season whole scoring 17 goals and 65 points (career high) and has appeared in all the team's 22 games thus far this season. He has five goals and looks to be on pace for a 20-goal season if he can stay healthy.

    And that's a big if.

    It might be too much of a gamble to acquire Connolly for the Leafs, who would have to pay the remainder of his $4.5 million contract, but he is a free agent at the end of the season.

    It's obvious the Leafs need help at center, and Connolly would give them a skilled player at the position, but if his health is an issue at all, it would be wise to stay away.

Andrew Cogliano

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    ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 21:  Andrew Cogliano #13 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center on November 21, 2010 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Andrew Cogliano has had somewhat of a rough ride during the first three years of his NHL career in Edmonton. He's been rumoured in more than one trade over the years, and it seems only a matter of time before he finds himself wearing the colours of a different jersey.

    Cogliano is not a first-line center; he has proven that time and time again for the Oilers, who've given him all the opportunity in the world to shine, but he just hasn't stepped up to the level they were hoping for.

    He scored 18 goals in each of his first two seasons but had just 10 last year, with 28 points through 82 games. He has just two goals this season.

    He doesn't fit the Leafs needs completely, but they are incredibly weak up the middle, and he would add some skill up the middle.

    What they really need is size and scoring, so Cogliano won't be one of Burke's most pursued players, but he could end up in Toronto if other deals don't pan out.

Blake Wheeler

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    BOSTON - OCTOBER 21: Blake Wheeler #26 of the Boston Bruins celebrates a first period goal against the Washington Capitals at the TD Garden on October 21, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The Boston Bruins need to get rid of players, this is no secret. The only saving grace for the team staying under the salary cap right now is injuries to players with big time contracts like Marc Savard, but when he and others are healthy again, the team is in trouble.

    That means they'll be looking to deal away some money, and though they may not want to get rid of a 24-year-old, 6'5", 205 pound winger, they may have no choice when it comes right down to it.

    What's great for teams involved in a trade with Boston is that they wouldn't have to be giving up a ton to get a guy like Wheeler in return. The Bruins don't have the cap space to accept big contracts in return, so they may be looking for picks or low salary type guys.

    It comes down to who Boston trades, not if they do, and if the Leafs want more size and scoring talent up front, Wheeler is the kind of guy they might have the chance to bring in.

    For a fairly reasonable asking price too.

Jiri Hudler

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    CHICAGO - MAY 24:  Jiri Hudler #26 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Four of the Western Conference Championship Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 24, 2009 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. T
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Leafs haven't exactly had the best luck with former Detroit Red Wings—as Brett Lebda has done more to earn his spot in the press box than on the ice this season—but what's one more struggling Red Wing on the team, right?

    Jiri Hudler has had a terrible start to the season this year in Detroit, so much so that he was a healthy scratch in a game for them last week. In 17 games, he has just one goal and six points and is a minus six.

    He had the best season of his young career last year, with 23 goals and 57 points but looks to be forcing it this season and seems lost on the speedy, veteran group in Detroit.

    A change of scenery might be just what the doctor ordered for Hudler, and with the Leafs need for a center, he might be a cheap addition that would bring some experience along with him.

    He's not the first line man they need, but he would add some depth up the middle—but that's not saying much.

Jason Arnott

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    NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 15: Jason Arnott #25 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Colorado Avalanche at the Prudential Center on October 15, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    They brought him back to New Jersey to add some scoring punch up front, while reminiscing about the old days when Jason Arnott helped the team to a Stanley Cup in 2000.

    They just didn't foresee the money issues the team is currently in, while paying the 36-year-old $4.5 million this season.

    He's been their most effective offensive player this season, scoring eight goals thus far, but as the season wears on, it may become apparent they can no longer afford his services. The Devils may have no choice when it comes down to it but to trade Arnott and free up some cap space.

    The Leafs, on the other hand, have the kind of cap room they could afford to take on that sizeable contract for one more year before Arnott becomes a free agent at the end of the year.

    He would add some much needed experience, serve as another reliable scorer, and at 6'5", 220 pounds, would be a big center they so badly need.

Jussi Jokinen

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    PHILADELPHIA - JANUARY 23:  Jussi Jokinen #36 of the Carolina Hurricanes skates against of the Philadelphia Flyers on January 23, 2010 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Hurricanes 4-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty I
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    He was thought to be mainly a shootout specialist while he played for the Dallas Stars, but after last season's performance for the Carolina Hurricanes, there is no one doubting the scoring ability of Jussi Jokinen.

    He scored 30 goals and 65 points in 2009-10 and had seven goals and 11 points in the playoffs as well. He was a stand out player all season, and though it's likely that the Hurricanes would love to resign him, he may be on the move if the team can get something valuable in return (like a defenseman).

    He would fit nicely on the wing with the Leafs, adding more speed and would be the only other legitimate 30-goal scorer other than Phil Kessel on the team.

    He makes a manageable $1.7 million this season and is a free agent at season's end. He doesn't play center, but the Leafs need scoring everywhere and could use his creativity up front.

Brad Richards

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 11:  Brad Richards #91 of the Dallas Stars warms up before the game against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center on November 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    He's the most talked about player in Toronto who doesn't play for the Leafs, and by now, you're probably sick of hearing his name. But when it comes to trade talks in the NHL, Brad Richards has got to be one of the names at the top of the list.

    It's not just that he's a free agent at the end of the season, but that Dallas is in a pile of trouble in the front office, and they may not have a choice but to trade him or else lose him for nothing in the offseason.

    There could be a steep asking price for Richards, who is among the league's best when it comes to point production even though he is a free agent at the year's end, but for a club like the Leafs that desperately need that scoring center, it might be worth the cost.

    It's unlikely he'll eventually end up in Toronto, as he's got a no-trade clause and is in control of where he goes—and something tells me he doesn't want to start over in a team in full rebuild mode—but there's always a chance that Burke works out a deal that could have Richards wearing the blue and white before seasons end.

    Just try and hold your drool for now, Leaf fans. It's a long shot.

Travis Zajac

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    NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 14: Zach Parise #9 of the New Jersey Devils celebrates a goal by Travis Zajac #19 (not shown) against Brian Boucher #33 of the Philadelphia Flyers in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playo
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    You can thank Ilya Kovalchuk for this possibility. Actually, at the rate the New Jersey Devils are going, they may find themselves having to get rid of everyone but their $100 million man by the time this season is over.

    Travis Zajac may be exactly what the Leafs are looking for to lineup on the first or second line. He's 6'3", has great hands and is already a proven 20-goal scorer in the NHL.

    He's also durable, having missed just two games in his first four seasons in the NHL and appeared in all of them thus far in 2010.

    The fact that New Jersey is in such trouble with their salary cap makes this acquisition increasingly possible by the day. Zajac would bring some much needed offense to a club that, well, has none at this point.

    Keep an eye on Zajac, Leaf fans, if there was ever a player who's future is in Toronto, you could be looking at him.