Maple Leafs’ remaining trade candidates on display in 3-2 loss to Panthers

Toronto Maple Leafs' Olli Jokinen (11) faces off against Florida Panthers' Nick Bjugstad (27) during first period NHL action in Toronto on Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO – The minor-league Toronto Marlies used to boast the slogan that “Every game is a try-out.” Right now it’s reality for the Maple Leafs.

With less than two weeks until the trade deadline, the Leafs are under the microscope as their rebuild goes into full swing. A large contingent from the Montreal Canadiens’ front office was in attendance at Air Canada Centre Tuesday night to survey potential trade candidates in the Leafs’ 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.

Recent trade acquisition Olli Jokinen was making his Toronto debut and on display with three other pending unrestricted free agents: defenceman Korbinian Holzer and forwards Daniel Winnik and David Booth. Jokinen didn’t record a point but got to play at his natural centre position on the third line.

READ MORE: Young players looking to get more ice time during Leafs’ trading season

The game’s other Jokinen, Jussi (no relation), scored for the Panthers (25-19-12), who also got goals from Nick Bjugstad and 2008 Leafs draft pick Jimmy Hayes. Florida’s major 2014 trade deadline acquisition, Roberto Luongo, continued his strong season with 25 saves.

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Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel scored for the Leafs (23-30-5). Kessel’s goal came late on the power play with Jonathan Bernier (14 saves) out of his net.

While the Panthers moved to within two points of the idle Boston Bruins for the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, the Leafs remained 26th overall, which would give them an 8.5 per cent chance of drafting Connor McDavid first overall.

READ MORE: Leafs trade Franson, Santorelli to Predators for first-round pick

Before worrying about the draft, the Leafs are expected to be busy in trade discussions leading up to the March 2 deadline. They already sent defenceman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli to Nashville Sunday for Jokinen, prospect Brendan Leipsic and a first-round pick.

The first deal won’t be the last, and Toronto has a handful of players who could draw interest beyond those with expiring contracts, including Bozak. So it makes plenty of sense that Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin and a handful of other executives were watching closely.

As a team, the Leafs didn’t put up much of a fight against an opponent still in the playoff race. They were undisciplined, especially in the second period, and allowed two power-play goals.

Notes – David Clarkson left the game late after taking a slash to the back of his right leg from former teammate Dave Bolland. … A pre-game moment of silence was held for 35-year-old former NHL defenceman Steve Montador, who died Sunday in his home in Mississauga, Ont. … Panthers forward Sean Bergenheim was a healthy scratch for the third straight game as GM Dale Tallon is trying to trade him.


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