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Report: Maple Leafs looking to deal Kessel prior to draft

Anne-Marie Sorvin / USA TODAY Sports

As the Stanley Cup Final winds down, the Toronto Maple Leafs appear set to steal the headlines once again.

The club, still without an official general manager, spent the first part of the offseason securing Mike Babcock as head coach, while the roster remains largely intact, despite assurances of a teardown from president Brendan Shanahan.

That could change in a big way as the NHL draft approaches, beginning with a trade for Phil Kessel, Damien Cox writes in The Toronto Star:

So ... not really much of a tear down so far.

But if the whispers around the league are accurate, that’s about to change, and possibly in a way that will rock the 2015 NHL draft by the time it opens for business in Sunrise, Fla., on June 26, just two weeks away.

In particular, there’s a widespread belief, as first reported a week ago by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, that the Leafs are making known their intent to deal Kessel before the draft, which could then trigger other moves.

Friedman recently reported that Kessel was a major topic of conversation at the NHL Scouting Combine, with several teams inquiring as to what it would take to make a deal.

The Maple Leafs, ostensibly looking to get younger with an eye to the future, will pick fourth overall at the draft. Kessel and Dion Phaneuf are obvious candidates to be dealt in order to clear cap space and acquire further assets to improve the overall makeup of the club.

Cox suggests the impetus to get something done prior to the draft could be the addition of more picks. Toronto also owns the 24th selection, acquired from Nashville, which it could utilize to move higher in the draft, according to Cox.

Kessel, 27, is the team's most prolific scorer, averaging 30 goals for every 82 games played since breaking into the NHL in 2006. He's also Toronto's highest-paid player, set to earn $8 million per season through the end of the 2019-20 campaign.

Report: Maple Leafs looking to deal Kessel prior to draft
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