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Toronto Maple Leafs Ian White celebrates his goal with teammate Wayne Primeau (R) against the Buffalo Sabres during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Toronto, December 21, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (MARK BLINCH)
Toronto Maple Leafs Ian White celebrates his goal with teammate Wayne Primeau (R) against the Buffalo Sabres during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Toronto, December 21, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (MARK BLINCH)

Primeau hopes he's not in the cards Add to ...

No member of the Toronto Maple Leafs knows the trade deadline quite as intimately as Wayne Primeau.

At 33, the veteran centre has suffered through 13 in all and been dealt in February or March four times - crisscrossing North America midseason in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2007, from Buffalo to Tampa to Pittsburgh, San Jose and Calgary.

So, no, he says, he's not a big fan of all those made-for-TV deadline day shows - although as one of four potential rental players on the Leafs, he will be watching tomorrow afternoon with fingers crossed.

"It's kind of sick when you think about it," Primeau said of learning his fate from what has become a ratings bonanza for the all-sports networks.

"Everybody just seems to be glued to their TV to see what moves are made by their teams.

"It's never easy - especially if you've got a family. Some of the trades I've been involved in, I've been traded when the kids were sleeping and I had to leave early in the morning, and they're wondering where their dad is. And I don't see them for two months. That's the difficult part. But as elite athletes, that can happen and it comes with the territory."

With Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke tied up with the Olympics the past two weeks, at the helm of the silver-medal winning U.S. team, his right-hand man Dave Nonis has been fielding the majority of the calls and said interest has been picking up the past few days.

Along with Primeau, Toronto's other rental offerings include forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky and Lee Stempniak and defenceman Garnet Exelby.

"We've been in contact with virtually every team in the league," Nonis said last night, as he made his way back from taking in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

He added he didn't foresee the Leafs making a move until closer to tomorrow's 3 p.m. (EST) deadline.

"It's not a situation where there's a deal to be made at this point," Nonis said. "But the frequency of the calls and the depth of discussions have definitely increased. Often, just the way things work, it doesn't happen until you're counting down the hours."

As is the norm, Nonis declined to comment on specific players, but given their age, production and pending free-agent status, Ponikarovsky and Stempniak are the most likely to be ex-Leafs by tomorrow. Both were off the ice early at practice yesterday, and then quickly out the door, avoiding the same tired questions about their future they've been fielding for more than a month.

Burke and Co. are hopeful Ponikarovsky, who has averaged more than 20 goals a season the past five years, can yield a late first- or early second-round pick, given there's likely to be significant competition for the few available players with scoring ability. Stempniak, meanwhile, probably fetches a second- or third-rounder, given his modest production and $3.5-million (U.S.) salary.

Primeau, who has been Toronto's top faceoff man (55 per cent) but has struggled - like most Leafs - on the penalty kill, will net only a mid-round pick. Finding a taker for Exelby, a regular healthy scratch, is probably not possible.

Nonis agreed with the general perception around the league that this is a good year to be a seller, given so few teams are out of the postseason race.

"It looks like there are more buyers than there are sellers, and generally if that's the case, it makes it easier to come up with a good deal," he said. "You never know what they're thinking, some guys want to go in with what they have, but I believe there's going to be a lot of teams looking to add the odd piece for the playoffs."

Primeau, meanwhile, said he hopes he is not one of them.

He grew up in nearby Whitby, Ont., and coming to Toronto in the sixth trade of his NHL career last July was a welcome homecoming. And despite the team's struggles on the ice, Primeau said he wants to be part of the rebuilding process.

While several former Leafs players couldn't wait to escape playing under head coach Ron Wilson and got their ticket out of town from Burke a few weeks ago, Primeau likes his role. He said in an ideal world he will sign a new contract and help tutor the franchise's youngsters next season.

"I would love to," he said. "I'd like to stay here, see the young guys develop and try and be a role model whether it's the work that I do off the ice or on the ice. I think Burkie's been doing a good job in terms of making some acquisitions that will help this team."


Notes Should Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke opt to deal all three of his soon-to-be unrestricted free agent forwards - Wayne Primeau, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Lee Stempniak - the Leafs' most experienced players up front will become Fredrik Sjostrom (408 career games played), Colton Orr (306) and Phil Kessel (271). It would also leave only six players on Toronto's roster from when Burke first took over the Leafs in November of 2008, meaning his house cleaning is nearly complete ..... One of those holdovers, defenceman Tomas Kaberle, could also be dealt by tomorrow's deadline, although he has reiterated his desire to use his no-trade clause to stay the rest of the season. Burke would also like to move out blueliner Jeff Finger but has had no takers for a $3.5-million per year contract which has two more seasons on it ..... The other four players left on the roster since Burke arrived are Mikhail Grabovski, Luke Schenn, Nikolai Kulemin and John Mitchell. Kulemin and Mitchell are set to become restricted free agents this summer ..... Leafs goalie coach François Allaire took a puck off the noggin at practice while sitting on the bench, but appeared only a little worse for wear with a cut on his chin. "Good to see he pays the price, too," netminder Jean-Sébastien Giguère said, laughing. ..... Coach Ron Wilson and winger Phil Kessel both missed practice yesterday as they were in transit from the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Next game Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes, 7 p.m. EST

TV Rogers Sportsnet

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