Puck-Moving Defenseman Off the Checklist
The Toronto Maple Leafs no longer require a puck-moving defenseman this off-season with the acquisition of John-Michael Liles for the second-round pick in 2012 the Leafs previously acquired from the Boston Bruins.
The 30-year-old offensive defenseman has one year remaining on his contract with a cap-hit of $4.2-million. While he is a one-dimensional player, it's worth noting that he led the Colorado Avalance with 153 blocked shots---although that probably correlates with his 36 giveaways, the most among Avalanche defensemen. He finished the season with six goals, 46 points and 18 powerplay points---three ahead of Matt Duchene. Liles' defensive statistics may be underwhelming, but make no mistake, he's here to play on the first-powerplay unit, and considering he led all Avalanche in PP TOI with over 245 minutes, despite missing six games, he'll fit right into the Leafs' blueprint.
The question, however, is if Liles' tenure with the Leafs will be shortlived. If prospects Jesse Blacker and Jake Gardiner continue to develop next season, Liles may be used as stop-gap until they're ready for the NHL. Considering Liles only cost the Leafs the conditional second-round pick they acquired from the Bruins---for making the Stanley Cup Final---it's an ideal scenario for Toronto looking ahead to the next off-season.
With a puck-moving defenseman off the checklist, the focus shifts on acquiring a number-one center---and to a lesser extent a bottom-six player. Will that happen tonight? We're about to find out. But keep in mind that Dave Nonis has said the Leafs are now willing to unload one of its defensemen to acquire a number-one center.
If it doesn't happen tonight, the Leafs will likely focus on Brad Richards on July 1.
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