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Devils can take advantage of struggling Maple Leafs

Toronto once again travels to thePrudential Center to face the Devils once again FridGetty Images

The pessimist would suggest the Toronto Maple Leafs are engaged in an ode to minimalist hockey.

The optimist...well, there hasn't been much to be optimistic about in the league's most hyper-charged market.

“It really sucks," Daniel Winnick said after the Leafs' 4-3 loss to Nashville on Feb. 3, their 10th loss in a row.

Give Winnick this: His analysis was both succinct and unerring.

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Indeed, as the Leafs enter Friday night's match against the Devils, this iteration appears to be in its final days. The Leafs are 13th in the East--25th overall--with a 22-26-4 record, and have been outscored by an aggregate 30-10 during the current 0-9-1 free fall.

A deeper examination reveals the Leafs have been shutout in four of the losses, and have scored more than two goals only twice. For the season, the Leafs have scored 144 goals in 52 games, an average of 2.77 goals per game.

"It seems like every game the opposing goalie is making a couple of big time stops, a couple of highlight reel saves that are keeping us one goal away," Nazeem Kadri said after the loss to Nashville. "It’s just something that’s been happening but we had opportunities.

"We’ve just got to bear down maybe a little bit more."

But it seems unlikely that Team President Brendan Shanahan will allow this group to navigate itson-and-off-ice maelstrom, especially after former head coach Randy Carlyle was fired on Jan. 6. Peter Horachek was named interim coach on Jan. 7.

When he met with reporters on Jan. 6 to explain the Carlyle firing, General Manager Dave Nonis hinted that the organization was open to considering trades.

"People think that players are set in stone," Nonis said. "I've said it before: Players are movable. None of [the current Leafs] have full [no-movement clauses in their contracts]. If there's a player move that makes us better we'll look to do it.

"We felt we weren't going in the right direction. We're trending the wrong way."

According to industry websiteNHLNumbers.com, the Leafs will have eight free agents this summer, including RFA Kadri, and UFAs Winnick, Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson. All would have value at the Mar. 2 trade deadline, most notably Franson.

According toESPN.com, the Leafs offered Franson a three-year deal in the neighborhood of $4.4 to $4.5 million that the defenseman declined. The report went on to suggest that Franson could command a deal similar in nature to the seven year, $40.25 million deal Matt Niskanen signed with Washington on July 1.

During Insider Trading segment Tuesday night, TSN reporter Darren Dreger estimated there is an 85 percent chance that Franson will be traded.

"Dave Nonis has reached out to a number of general managers to say, 'You know what, we're not ready to put the for sale sign up just yet but get your offers ready. If there's a particular player you want, get your offers ready because we're going to do that at any time moving forward in the days ahead,'" Dreger said.

You can follow NHL writer Denis Gorman on Twitter at @DenisGorman

 
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