Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis is receiving calls from other GMs on the availability of captain Dion Phaneuf and top scorer Phil Kessel but is in no rush to trade either of them, or anyone else on his team, ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline at 3 p.m. ET on March 2, he told TSN 1050 Toronto on Monday.
Nonis said his top defenseman and top forward are generating some interest when he was asked what other teams around the League think of Phaneuf and Kessel.
"GMs have their opinions about players. Everyone thinks that they're good players; I've had teams call on both of them," Nonis said. "These aren't guys that the rest of the League looks at and says, 'Well, I really don't want any part of them.' That's not the case at all. Phil's a good player. He's a top goal scorer in the League, he has been over the last five, six years. And Dion plays a lot of minutes, and if you look around the League, [defensemen] that play that many minutes are hard to find.
"What people think of them? I think probably you should ask them directly. But I've never had anything negative said to me about them."
Nonis traded pending unrestricted free agents Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Nashville Predators on Sunday, and the move was widely described as the first step in a complete rebuild of the Maple Leafs. While Nonis would not deny that trading Phaneuf and Kessel might be part of that rebuilding process, he said he was in no rush to trade either of them, or anyone, prior to the trade deadline.
"Where we are right now, I think it's fair to say we have to look at some changes, but there's not a timetable on it," Nonis said. "It's the same scenario as when we moved Cody and [Santorelli], if there wasn't a fair deal on the table we would have waited. That's going to be the same situation here. If there are deals that make us better and we think really help us long term then we'll be happy to make those by the deadline. If those aren't available, then you go into the offseason with the same mindset."
Phaneuf and Kessel each has a long term contract with a heavy salary cap charge. Kessel has seven years left on his contract after this one at a salary cap charge of $8 million, and Phaneuf has six years remaining at $7 million per season. Phaneuf is currently recovering from a hand injury, while Kessel is struggling offensively with two goals and two assists in his past 15 games, further complicating a potential trade.
Nonis, however, feels Kessel's game is coming around.
"I try to talk to Phil fairly regularly," he said. "I spent time with him on the road with the group recently. So I know how frustrated he is. I thought he had a very good game in Montreal [on Saturday]. Phil measures a lot of his play on production, as we all do, that's what he does. So even though I think he played well, didn't score and felt frustrated with the game, I don't think it's from a lack of effort. Phil wants to do well. If he can play like he played in Montreal down the stretch, his game will round back out."
As for whether or not Kessel will be a part of the Maple Leafs' future, Nonis would not say one way or the other, and says that stance has not changed since he signed his eight-year, $64 million contract extension on Oct. 1, 2013.
"All the players that we have right now, we don't have anyone that we really say we would never move," Nonis said. "I think you have to be open to moving players, and Phil isn't any different. That hasn't changed since the day that we signed him. We told people at that point if it would make us better long term that we would do it. But there's not a fire sale for Phil Kessel or anyone else on our team."