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Maple Leafs start trip as deadline uncertainty looms

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- The Toronto Maple Leafs left home Friday for a four-game road trip.

None of the players can feel absolutely certain they will be coming back to Toronto anytime soon.

The Maple Leafs play Saturday at the Montreal Canadiens (7 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports) and Sunday at the Washington Capitals before getting a day off in Florida on Monday, the day of the NHL Trade Deadline.

When the clock strikes 3 p.m. ET on Monday, a lot of the speculation and anxiousness will be gone. Until then, it hovers like a black cloud.

"I have a big bag," Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul quipped Saturday when asked if he packed for this trip any differently.

After the stunning trade of forward David Clarkson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for injured forward Nathan Horton on Thursday, the notion that any player may be traded out of Toronto couldn't have been made any clearer.

General manager Dave Nonis has said as much many times, but the trade of Clarkson still caught the Maple Leafs players by surprise.

"I didn't expect him to be moved," center Nazem Kadri said, "for whatever reason."

A big part of the reason was Clarkson's contract, which has five years remaining at an NHL salary-cap charge of $5.25 million. In return the Maple Leafs took on Horton's uninsured contract, which has five years remaining at a salary-cap charge of $5.3 million, while his career remains in doubt because of chronic back issues.

"Obviously we knew there was a chance anyone could be traded," Lupul said, "but that one in particular certainly caught the guys off guard."

Lupul, forward Phil Kessel, defenseman and captain Dion Phaneuf and any of the impending unrestricted free agents on the Maple Leafs could conceivably be traded by Monday afternoon. It can make for an uncomfortable environment, one that's been helped somewhat by winning two in a row for the first time since Dec. 16 heading into their game against the Canadiens.

"I'll be happier on Monday, if I'm still here or wherever else," Lupul said. "But it's out of my control. I love Toronto, I love being a Maple Leaf, but if it's time to move on, it's time to move on."

Lupul has been outspoken about his belief that totally tearing down the Maple Leafs roster might not be the best course of action, and he said he believes that is not necessarily the plan for Nonis and president Brendan Shanahan.

"The only place that's really been said is in the media," Lupul said. "All I've heard from Dave Nonis and Brendan Shanahan is that we're going to try to make some hockey trades, because obviously the product we put on the ice this year wasn't good enough. So they're trying to make trades, I'm sure they're listening to offers on everyone, but I don't think they're just going to trade players for the sake of trading them. They need to get value back.

"Everyone's making it sound like everyone can be gone, but then what do you have left? A bunch of draft picks that might be good one day?"

The Maple Leafs have five impending UFAs remaining on the roster who could potentially fetch those draft picks after already trading forwards Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli and defenseman Cody Franson. Center Olli Jokinen, forward David Booth and defenseman Korbinian Holzer are the most attractive of those players and could be among those who should have packed a bigger bag for this road trip.

Jokinen has been with the Maple Leafs since arriving in the trade that sent Franson and Santorelli to the Nashville Predators on Feb. 15, but he already senses how difficult this period of sweeping change has been for some of his new teammates who might become ex-teammates very soon.

"It's a tough situation," Jokinen said. "It's always at this time of the year when a team's out of the playoffs, you would rather be in a position that you're wondering who we're going to add. So I think that way it's hard, especially for younger guys and guys that have years left in their deals. Most of these guys, they're going to play for a long time, and all those guys they want to stay here. So it's hard."

The Maple Leafs have two more days left of this; two more days of answering questions, two more days of feeling a bit jumpy every time their phones ring. Until then, they have two games to play.

"I don't know what the future holds, if they want to rebuild from scratch or what it is, but it's not my job," Lupul said. "My job is to play [Saturday], play Sunday then we'll see what happens Monday."

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