Leafs Add Liles to Blue Line Corps

In perhaps the most surprising trade consummated at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired puck-moving defenseman John-Michael Liles from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for a second round pick in the 2012 Draft (acquired when the Leafs moved Tomas Kaberle to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline).

Liles is one of the more prolific power play quarterbacks in the league – he tallied six goals and 40 assists in 2010-11 – and should do a nice job of replacing Kaberle for 2010-11. The Leafs’ defense is littered with hard-hitting rearguards whose primary focus is their own zone, and it was a coup for them to add a player of Liles’ caliber at such a low cost.

With a cap hit of $4.2 million (and a $4.5 million salary), Liles isn’t coming quite so cheaply from a fiscal perspective, but the Leafs’ deep coffers make that a non-issue.

The move to add Liles should have a particularly positive impact on captain Dion Phaneuf, whose blistering shot from the point will now be set up by one of the better-passing blueliners in the league.

While many of Leafs GM Brian Burke’s moves have fallen under intense scrutiny – and for good reason – the acquisition of Liles will quite possibly turn out to be the shrewdest of his tenure. The 30-year-old defenseman has plenty of good hockey left, and all indications are that the Avs sold low with this deal.

Looking more closely at the Avs’ side of the equation, they are now more than $20 million under the team payroll floor/minimum. They do have nine restricted free agents, most notably T.J. Galiardi, Kyle Cumiskey (a good bet to take some of Liles’ power play time) and goaltender Brian Elliott. But given those RFAs’ collective inexperience, their combined cost won’t likely be very onerous.

As a result, the Avs should be expected to operate quite aggressively in the coming weeks, emerging as players for virtually every unrestricted free agent of note when the signing period begins on July 1.

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