TORONTO – The rebuilding of the Toronto Maple Leafs has begun.
The Leafs traded defenceman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli on Sunday to the Nashville Predators in exchange for a first-round pick, prospect Brendan Leipsic and soon-to-be-free-agent centre Olli Jokinen.
Franson was Toronto’s best trade chip ahead of the March 2 deadline as he’s a pending unrestricted free agent. The right-handed-shooting blue-liner topped the rental market around the NHL.
Santorelli, a versatile forward, was on a one-year contract and wasn’t expected to be back, either.
The trade leaves forwards Daniel Winnik and David Booth as the remaining Leafs expected to be dealt in the next couple of weeks. Jokinen, 36, could join them on the way out.
The first-round pick the Leafs got in the trade is in this year’s draft. With 82 points, Nashville is atop the league, so it is expected to be a late-round pick, depending on the playoffs.
In Leipsic, a 20-year-old Winnipeg, Man., native, the Leafs get a 2012 third-rounder to begin re-stocking on prospects.
Predators general manager David Poile didn’t want to wait until the deadline to get his team ready for the stretch run.
“In preparation for the 2015 playoff run, our goal was to add a veteran defenceman who could play in all situations and a proven forward who could move up and down lineup based on the situation,” Poile said in a statement. “We were fortunate to do this in the same transaction with players who are in the prime of their careers more than two weeks before the trade deadline in order to give them more time to contribute and gel with their teammates.”
Both players were originally Predators draft picks.
Franson, 27, has six goals and 26 assists in 55 games this season, and those 32 points are tied for 18th among defencemen.
“Cody brings size, offensive ability and the capacity to play in all situations to our lineup,” Poile said. “He is the perfect component to round out our defensive corps and give us eight proven NHL defencemen.”
Santorelli, 29, had been playing with Winnik and impending restricted free-agent centre Nazem Kadri on the Leafs’ new-look top line. He has 11 goals and 18 assists this season while on a one-year deal with the Leafs.
“He has fantastic speed, is excellent in the faceoff circle and can play all three forward positions if called upon,” Poile said. “He is an excellent complement to our existing group of forwards.”