TORONTO - Points in the standings are no longer motivation for the Toronto Maple Leafs, yet there remains plenty for the players to prove.
"Everyone still has things to play for in here," winger Joffrey Lupul said. "Young guys want to make an impression. There's other guys that would probably like to get moved to a contender."
With the NHL's March 2 trade deadline looming, the Leafs are open for business and buyers around the league are watching carefully. Forward Daniel Winnik, recently-acquired centre Olli Jokinen and defenceman Korbinian Holzer, all three set to be unrestricted free agents July 1, are the players most likely to be dealt by then.
"I think anyone knows on an expiring deal and they're a UFA they're a candidate to be traded," Winnik said recently. "When you're on a one-year deal I think you're being evaluated every game of the year."
Winnik actually leads the Leafs in even-strength points since Dec. 17 and could be highly-sought after by a team in need of someone who can play all three forward positions. But Winnik doesn't necessarily think he's showcasing himself for a trade as much as his next contract this summer.
"You want to stay in the league as long as you can," the 29-year-old said Thursday. "I think expiring contract or no expiring contract, you want to just play your best game because everyone's always watching."
Interim coach Peter Horachek understands the mentality. But unlike Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan, who told reporters last month that trade candidates should "make it happen" with their play, Horachek isn't encouraging it.
"I think internally it probably is a self-motivating factor," Horachek said last week. "That's normal. I'm certainly not going to, from a coach's standpoint, say, 'All you guys out there in your last year, you'd better play harder.' I expect them to play harder anyways."
David Booth, like Winnik on a one-year deal and trying to prove he deserves another contract, said it would be naive to think changes aren't coming to the Leafs. They are expected to continue through the deadline.
It would also be naive to think that only soon-to-be free agents are eligible to be traded by then or in the off-season, and general manager Dave Nonis said that no one is truly "untouchable." As the Leafs embark on a rebuild, core players like Tyler Bozak aren't off-limits, either, but the centre with a modified no-trade clause said he hasn't considered his potential options.
"I love it here," Bozak said. "I've been here my whole career. Obviously I want to stay here as long as I can. If there was something else to happen, it's kind of hard to say right now where I'd want to be because this is the place I'd like to be."
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