The process to make the Toronto Maple Leafs respectable again takes patience and plenty of roster moves to clear up salary cap space before selecting with one of the top picks in the draft.
There's little doubt that Toronto will try to convince Steven Stamkos to join his hometown team with a mammoth contract offer over the summer, and fans might be picturing him wearing a Maple Leafs sweater when the Tampa Bay Lightning star is on the Air Canada Centre ice Monday night.
Stamkos has been on fire since Tampa Bay publicly stated the pending unrestricted free agent won't be moved before the trade deadline, scoring in each contest during the Lightning's six-game winning streak. He scored on a penalty shot and assisted on Ryan Callahan's power-play goal in Sunday's 4-1 win at Boston as Tampa Bay (36-22-4) moved into second place in the Atlantic Division, two points behind Florida.
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Stamkos scored twice in 13 games prior to his current run as rumors swirled about whether he would be dealt prior to Monday afternoon's deadline.
"It's a lot easier to feel even better when the team's having success as well," Stamkos said. "I mean six in a row, that's a great feat for us at this time in the year. So it obviously is just icing on the cake to be producing in those wins, and our line is feeling really good about our game right now."
Stamkos led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final last season, and he might be in for a tough transition if he decides to return home next season. Toronto (21-29-10) has the fewest points in the Eastern Conference in its first season under coach Mike Babcock as it continues to overhaul its roster.
Dion Phaneuf was traded to Ottawa in a nine-player deal Feb. 9, and James Reimer was dealt to San Jose for fellow goaltender Alex Stalock, forward Ben Smith and a 2018 fourth-round pick on Saturday. Toronto then traded Daniel Winnik and a fifth-round pick to Washington for Brooks Laich, defenseman Connor Carrick and a second-round selection Sunday.
The Maple Leafs reportedly informed P.A. Parenteau that he would be traded, and others like Nazem Kadri reportedly are being shopped as well. They're struggling through what will be the 10th season of the last 11 that they won't make the playoffs, having dropped eight of 10 after falling 4-1 at Montreal on Saturday.
Parenteau left in the first period with what he described as spasms in his neck.
"Our bench wasn't very deep," Babcock said. "We know anyway, night to night, we're going to have a challenge. I thought with all hands on deck we would have had a better opportunity."
They'll likely have a tough time with the Lightning no matter who is in uniform. Vladislav Namestnikov scored in overtime to give Tampa a 5-4 win in the first meeting Dec. 15 before Stamkos' power-play goal handed the Maple Leafs a 1-0 defeat Jan. 27.
The Lightning scored twice with the man advantage Sunday after going 2 for 36 over their previous 10. Callahan assisted on Alex Killorn's power-play goal and scored at even strength as Tampa Bay won for the 14th straight time when scoring at least three times.
"To know you're that close to being in the division lead is exciting, so every game is so important," Killorn said.
Ben Bishop made 32 saves, so coach Jon Cooper could now elect to go with Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was recalled from the AHL on Saturday.
Jonathan Bernier should be in net for Toronto despite a 3.58 goals-against average in his last nine appearances.