By HOWARD BERGER
ST. PAUL, Minn. (June 24) – The Maple Leafs acquisition of defenseman John-Michael Liles from Colorado capped off a pursuit that nearly came to fruition at the National Hockey League trade deadline back in March. “Yeah, we were close to making a deal for him; it just didn’t come together,” acknowledged Leafs associate general manager David Nonis just prior to the NHL draft tonight. “It was nobody’s fault; we just couldn’t find a match. In the past 24 hours, we were able to find a match that made sense to both teams.”
The Avalanche settled for a second-round pick in next summer’s NHL draft. In return, the Leafs get a defenseman that should be able to handle the puck-moving role lost when Tomas Kaberle was traded to Boston in February. Though their styles do not match, Liles and Kaberle put up numbers that were almost identical last season: Liles 76-6-40-46; Kabere 82-4-43-47. “John-Michael had an exceptional season offensively,” Nonis said. “He moves the puck around differently than Tomas but we think he can fill that job, particularly on our powerplay. We’re very happy to get him.”
DEFENSEMAN JOHN-MICHAEL LILES SKATES IN COLORADO’S
THIRD JERSEY AGAINST ST. LOUIS IN NOV. 15, 2010 GAME AT
PEPSI CENTER IN DENVER
What this acquisition does in the immediate future is relieve some of the onus on GM Brian Burke once the annual free agent derby gets underway next Friday. Though Burke will likely have to trade for the No. 1 centre he’s pursuing, a mobile, puck-savvy defenseman was at the top of his list on the open market. Dealing for Liles all but eliminates the probability of Burke over-paying for a similar commodity on July 1. He can now look to add a depth player on the blue-line for significantly less money.
Liles, 30, is a native of Indianapolis. He was selected by the Avalanche 159th overall in the 2000 entry draft and has been playing regularly on the Colorado blue-line since the 2003-04 season. He has twice scored 14 goals in a season and his career high in points is 49 (2005-06). At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, he is not the prototypical Burke player, relying more on finesse than muscle. He rounds out a deep Toronto blue-line that includes Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, Keith Aulie, Mike Komisarek, Carl Gunnarsson, Matt Lashoff and Brett Lebda.
“We have other oars in the water and it’s possible we could acquire another established player before the night is over,” Nonis said minutes prior to Edmonton selecting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins first overall in the NHL draft.