You shall not pass
Friday the Toronto Maple Leafs took the first step towards addressing their powerplay problems and to fill out their back end by sending a second rounder in 2012 to the Colorado Avalanche for John-Michael Liles. Liles will definitely be parachuted in to quarterback the powerplay. As Scott Cullen notes, he has six straight years of at least 15 powerplay assists. He’s been a big part of a powerplay that, while not exactly lighting the world on fire, has been much better than Toronto’s. JML will carry a $4.2M cap hit in the last season of his contract that will actually see him paid $4.55M. Liles is a product of the US National Team Development Program as well as four years at Michigan State University.
More scouting reports after the jump
In order to get a better sense of what to expect from John-Michael Liles I asked David Driscoll-Carignan from Mile High Hockey to pass along some thoughts on the newest Maple Leaf. Here’s the site’s final report card for the 2010-2011 in which JML racked up an A-.
I’m a big fan of Liles. He has always been known for his offense and you’re definitely getting a guy with some chops there; solid puck mover, more of a passer than a shooter at the point but still very effective. It used to be that JML was a defensive liability, but he’s really improved that side of his game through the years. He used to be really prone to defensive zone turnovers – especially when facing the pressure of an aggressive forecheck – but he’s really gotten better. He’s not a shutdown guy, but he’s more physical than you’d expect from a small guy who looks like a model and he was the team’s top shot blocker last year with 153. He was never one to shy away from those little post-whistle scrums in front of the net which, I’m told, is a quality Toronto kind of favors?
So why, when the Avalanche are rebuilding and could still use some pop on the back end, was the trade made?
While I hate to see him go, it does make sense for the Avs to trade Liles as they have two up-and-coming offensive defensemen in Tyson Barrie and Stefan Elliott. Both appear close to being NHL ready and this creates room for them when they’re ready. I don’t love the return, though. The Avs got more for dealing Jordan Leopold a couple years back and, of course, a future second is small fraction (literally) of what Tomas Kaberle netted last year.
Joe Cino took a look at some of the numbers behind the Avalanche’s defence corps last year. It paints the picture that we would expect: JML played middle of the park opposition, got easy zone starts relative to the group, had almost the worst finishing percentage among the Avs’ defencemen, and blocked a tonne of shots. Actually, that last one is a bit of a surprise except when you consider that he’s usually on the ice when play is going against him. However, despite all of that, there is a bottom line:
Bottom line: I understand why he was moved but I don’t love the deal. I would have liked to see a little more coming back. Still wish him the best though – Johnny Hot Pocket has been a fan favorite in Denver for a long time.
In a best case scenario, JML plays so well that the Leafs can trade him for more assets at the trade deadline or their sign him for a good extension. Worst case scenario he stinks but he buys the Leafs’ one more year of development for the young defencemen. I just hope we can sound like Avs fans when his stint in Toronto ends.