With significant roster upheaval likely on the horizon for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the first man out of town could be little-used checking forward Jamal Mayers.
Mayers confirmed yesterday a long-standing rumour that his agent was pursuing a ticket out of town, saying he hoped to play out the tail end of this season with a playoff-bound team.
"The reality is I'm 35 and this team wants to get younger and so forth," Mayers said of the rebuilding Leafs. "That's their prerogative to do what they want to do, and I still feel that I have a lot of hockey left to give.
"I've always kept myself in great shape and believe I have a lot left to give. Hopefully there's other teams that are out there that believe so. And I haven't had a chance to win yet, so I'd certainly like that opportunity, but I can't control that."
There are also reports defenceman Garnet Exelby has asked for a trade.
Mayers's agent, Pat Brisson, said the situation wasn't urgent, but he had talked to several teams and there would likely be interest closer to the March 3 trade deadline.
"It's not an emergency, it's not like he's got to get out [right away]" Brisson said. "It's just looking at his future. He's a free agent this summer, and hopefully he can play another two, three years in this league.
If [a trade]makes sense for the team as well as him, then good.
"The teams we're talking to are teams that have a chance to compete in the playoffs. Jamal's a character player who brings speed, because he can definitely skate, and who can follow a system and bring some grit. He's got character. Teams are curious to know where they're going to be [in the standings]here in the next few weeks, but there's some interest for Jammer at that level."
Mayers is one of nine pending unrestricted free agents on the Leafs' roster, and with general manager Brian Burke expected to begin shipping players out in the near future, it's possible many will no longer be with the team after the deadline.
The Leafs' other soon-to-be UFAs include forwards Lee Stempniak, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan, Wayne Primeau and Rickard Wallin, defencemen Exelby and Mike Van Ryn, and goaltender Vesa Toskala.
What demand exists for any of these players remains to be seen, however, as all but Stempniak, Ponikarovsky and Stajan have either been injured, ineffective or regular healthy scratches this season.
Mayers is in the final year of a three-year deal that has paid him an average of $1.33-million (U.S.) a season. He has played only a minor role with Toronto this season, getting less than nine minutes a game of ice time.
Mayers has logged more than 700 NHL games but has been scratched a dozen times this season under coach Ron Wilson and played almost exclusively on the team's fourth line alongside enforcer Colton Orr.
He has fought eight times this season and has one goal and four assists.
"The reality is that I play a specific role," Mayers said. "Obviously there's no secret that teams do look for certain things - more depth and so forth - for a playoff run."
Wilson indicated yesterday that Mayers's reduced ice time this season wasn't tied to his trade request, which is rumoured to have been made as far back as last summer. Mayers was acquired by then GM Cliff Fletcher from the St. Louis Blues in 2008 in exchange for a third-round pick.
"Yeah, he hasn't played much," Wilson said. "I can't accommodate everybody.
"Everybody wants to play. That doesn't mean that I spread the ice time in a democratic, nice fashion to everybody. He's got a role and I think he knows what his role is. He thinks he can do more for somebody, and if Brian can accommodate, then that'll be good for him to prove that he can do that."
Brisson added that Mayers is more concerned with playing for a winning organization than getting more ice time than he has in Toronto.
"I think winning is the most important thing," Brisson said. "When the team wins and he plays less, he's happy, he's okay with it. As long as he's part of it. He's not expecting to be [among the team's]top six [forwards] He likes to participate like any other player. But he's not expecting to play as much as he did three, four years ago, he understands that as well."