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With four teams left and the NHL playoffs set to wind down, news and trade rumors should pick up as we get closer to the draft. “Wind down” is perhaps the wrong way to say it, but with fewer games happening (we’ll soon be at one every two nights) there’s a lot more time to speculate and gear up for an eventful summer.

The word out of Pittsburgh has been centered around Jordan Staal for a few weeks now, and since the team was eliminated there have been questions, ranging from reasonable to… er, unreasonable (Malkin trade anyone?) popping up quite regularly.

The Staal situation isn’t new. Folks have been talking about his place with the Penguins — behind Malkin and Crosby — since he’s been with the team. The idea is that he’s essentially being held back from thriving with another club. And for us Leafs fans, desperate to see an elite center in blue and white, we’re quite familiar with the name.

Then there’s this, from Josh Yohe at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Staal, whose contract expires next summer, recently was asked whether he, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could enjoy long-term happiness in Pittsburgh.

Good question, he said.

That’s interesting.

I’m not ready to declare “Staal wants out” or anything, but it’s obvious he’s unsure of where things are going with the Penguins. In fact, this thing is gaining so much speed recently, it’s almost assumed that Staal isn’t in Pittsburgh next year.

Yohe doesn’t go all Eklund on us with this recent piece. He simply names teams he believes will be in on this, and of course Carolina is at the top of the heap. Even Bob McKenzie has said this recently.

Number two on the list is the Leafs, and here’s what Yohe has to say about them:

It has become known that Toronto general manager Brian Burke is a big Jordan Staal fan. In fact, every GM in hockey is a big Staal fan, but Burke is said to particularly covet him. Burke and Shero are friends and have conducted business together. Think they would like Staal, a Thunder Bay native, in Ontario?

What the Maple Leafs have to offer

Center Nazem Kadri is the most talented player in Toronto—s system, and he thrived late in the season with the Maple Leafs. He—s a pure goal scorer. Also, defenseman Luke Schenn is the kind of physical, stay-at-home defenseman the Penguins badly need. The Maple Leafs are willing to deal Schenn.

The Ontario native bit doesn’t matter at all. And we’ve heard the “Burke is a huge fan” about basically any player on this planet who isn’t awful at hockey – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

For another team to “badly need” Luke Schenn is a pretty hilarious idea for a number of us Leafs fans, but if other clubs believe this, then hey, bonus for the Leafs.

Burke would obviously be hesitant to deal Kadri, especially if it involves sending another player with a lot of potential out with him. But with Staal, who seems to have been in the NHL forever, it’s easy to forget how young he is. He’s nearly a full year younger than Matt Frattin. It isn’t like the Leafs would be mortgaging the future for this guy, he is a future-type player.

Other teams mentioned in the Staal sweepstakes are the Oilers and Wild.

The Oilers have an edge in terms of assets they can unload for a big name player like Staal. But tossing out a potential star seems backwards to me, and with one year left there’s no way Staal would re-sign in Edmonton next summer anyway. For all I know this probably applies to Toronto as well, so if Burke is actually a big fan of Staal, he’ll be careful not to dish out major pieces without knowing if this guy is going to be a Leaf in 2013.

Toss this guy’s name in the hat along with Luongo and Suter for players the Leafs will look at and likely strike out on in the next few months.

Note: Dmitry Chesnokov reports that Leo Komarov will join the Leafs this summer. Born in 87, Komarov had 24 points in 46 games for the KHL’s Moscow Dynamo this past season.

Email and follow on twitter @rfancey

Earlier today: Seven Games of Ross by Jon Steitzer

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