NHL Rumor Roundup: Struggling Maple Leafs weigh steep cost of adding defenseman

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Radko Gudas, Jake Gardiner and Jake Muzzin (Getty Images)

Can’t get enough NHL rumors? Lyle Richardson’s Rumor Roundup column serves as a one-stop guide to the latest rumblings around the league.

The New Year hasn’t been kind thus far to the Maple Leafs, who sit in second place in the Atlantic Division. After dropping seven of their last 10 games entering Wednesday’s contest with the Capitals, Toronto is in danger of being overtaken by the Bruins and Canadiens.

Defense remains a nagging issue, particularly on the right side. With the losses mounting, there’s growing media chatter suggesting they could look for help in the trade market. 

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TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported last week the Leafs might be willing to part with their 2019 first-round pick in a package deal for a defenseman. His colleague Bob McKenzie believes they’ll also have to include a good young forward like Kaspari Kapanen or Andreas Johnsson in the deal. 

Over the weekend, Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said the asking price for a top-four, right-shot defenseman is very high right now. He also indicated the Leafs could dangle their 2019 first-round pick but claimed they’re unwilling to part with Kapanen, Johnsson or top prospect Rasmus Sandin

Kypreos’ colleague Elliotte Friedman suggested Jake Muzzin of the Kings or Radko Gudas of the Flyers as more affordable options. Muzzin, however, is a left-shot rearguard. Gudas would bring grit on the right side but he usually skates on the Flyers’ third pairing.  

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Jake Gardiner‘s defensive miscues recently make him the target of Toronto boo-birds but TSN’s Darren Dreger said the 28-year-old D-man won’t be going anywhere. He added the Leafs will attempt to re-sign Gardiner, who’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent in July. 

If the Leafs fail to find a suitable defenseman before the trade deadline they could go shopping for one this summer. If so, perhaps they’ll consider using William Nylander as trade bait. Sportsnet’s Brian Burke predicted the Leafs will move the 22-year-old winger this summer, noting they’re already well-stocked with highly-skilled forwards “who aren’t big.” 

Nylander has had difficulty regaining his 60-point form since signing a six-year, $45 million contract on Dec. 1. Nevertheless, Burke feels he’s still a valuable asset who can fetch a solid return. 

Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas promised Nylander that he wouldn’t be traded. Still, it wouldn’t be the first time a GM has assured a player he won’t be dealt only to turn around and trade him later. 

Derick Brassard on the block again?

Days prior to last season’s NHL trade deadline, the Penguins acquired Derick Brassard from the Senators as part of a three-way deal with the Golden Knights. With this year’s deadline less than five weeks away, there’s talk he could be on the move again. 

The 30-year-old center has struggled since joining the Penguins. Due to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, he might not fit into their long-term plans. 

Last week, The Athletic’s Josh Yohe reported Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford admitted Brassard has under-performed this season. Rutherford could either retain him for the rest of the season or package him with a surplus defenseman for a third-line center. 

Yohe’s colleague Aaron Portzline subsequently reported he was told the Blue Jackets inquired about Brassard, who skated with them from 2007-13. However, he admitted a trade between Metro division playoff rivals could be difficult to pull off. 

Shopping Brassard to a Western Conference club would be a better option. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes the Sharks may have checked into his availability. 

Trade rumor mill quick-hitters

— The Hurricanes took a step toward bolstering their scoring depth last week by shipping center Victor Rask to the Wild for winger Nino Niederreiter. GM Don Waddell could still have another deal up his sleeve. 

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported the Niederreiter acquisition won’t prevent Waddell from potentially shopping one of his right-shot defensemen for a scoring forward before the trade deadline. Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk have surfaced in the rumor mill at various times this season. 

Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds continues to feature prominently in the rumor mill. Philly.com’s Sam Carchidi reported GM Chuck Fletcher said the 30-year-old pending UFA will either be re-signed or moved by the Feb. 25 trade deadline. The Flyers don’t intend to lose him for nothing to free agency this summer.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggested the Bruins or Predators as potential destinations for Simmonds. The Tennessean’s Joe Rexrode acknowledged he’d be a good net-front presence for the Predators but felt he would be too expensive to acquire.