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Trade with Predators could signal Maple Leafs rebuild

by Mike Brophy

TORONTO – By trading veterans Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, the Toronto Maple Leafs may have indicated they're willing to commence on a full-scale rebuild, and it could take a while.

The Maple Leafs traded Franson, 27, and Santorelli, 29, to the Nashville Predators on Sunday for Nashville's first pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft along with forwards Brendan Leipsic and Olli Jokinen. Franson and Santorelli are both impending unrestricted free agents.

Toronto general manager Dave Nonis was asked if the trade is the first of many to come before the March 2 deadline. He said not necessarily.

"We're going to make moves whenever they come about if we feel they can help us," Nonis said. "Whether or not there are a lot more between now and the deadline I really couldn't say. It's not like we're trying to move out our whole roster. If there are deals that will help us move the team forward we will look to do that. In this case we're talking about two players that are unrestricted and we couldn't risk not getting something for them. If we couldn't re-sign them it was important we got some assets back for them."

Maple Leafs' president Brendan Shanahan indicated last week a rebuild is in the works. The Maple Leafs are 4-20-2 in their past 26 games and are on pace to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons. Shanahan indicated there is no rush to reconstruct the club and the emphasis will be on doing it right, not quickly.

The two players who were identified as cornerstones of the franchise under the previous regime headed by Brian Burke, defenseman Dion Phaneuf and right wing Phil Kessel, may also be in play if the Maple Leafs decide to begin anew.

Nonis said getting a first-round draft pick was Toronto's top priority and landing Leipsic addressed another concern.

"It was our goal to get as high a pick as possible as well as to get what we feel is a very good prospect along with it," Nonis said. "Obviously the further you go down the draft list the harder it is but there have been some pretty good players picked in the 20s in the past few years and it is our goal to get that with this pick this year."

Nonis said the only downside right now for Leipsic is his lack of size (5-foot-10, 177 pounds), but he believes smaller players are finding a way to be successful in the NHL today. He said Leipsic is a very tenacious player who is hard on the puck. Leipsic's ability to put up points is well-documented in the Western Hockey League, and in his first year in the American Hockey League he has been among the top five rookie scorers.

"He is going to take some time," Nonis said. "We've got time with him and he's only on his entry level contract. We like his upside."

Nonis said he is satisfied with what the Maple Leafs received from the Predators for two experienced players. Leipsic, 20, has seven goals and 35 points in 47 games with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League. Jokinen, 36, has three goals and six points in 48 games with the Predators.

"You never know if you wait longer if it is going to get better or if it is going to drop off," Nonis said. "You do run the risk of the market changing and you run the risk of injury (to Franson and Santorelli). We feel the pieces we got are quality pieces. We just felt it was the right time to act on it."

Nonis added he didn't feel either of the players he traded was asking for too much money on a contract extension, but he wasn't confident he could get the deals done before the trade deadline and didn't want to lose them in the summer and get nothing in return.

"Both are quality guys and I would have them back [in Toronto]," Nonis said.

Nonis said Jokinen's stay in Toronto might be a short one. He said the Maple Leafs priority is to get the veteran center on top of his game in hopes that a contending team may have interest in adding him as a depth player for a playoff run.

Asked if there are any untouchables on his team, Nonis said it would not make sense to trade young players when the goal is to build a young team that has a chance to win. In particular, he said trading a player such as 20-year-old defenseman Morgan Rielly is highly improbable.

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