Hockey trade rumours are like Christmas wishlist items in many ways. If you scribble down enough random toys that will become boring in two days, eventually you’ll get one of them. But when more aggressive parents beat mom and dad to that Tickle Me Elmo, you’ll end up with some cheap knockoff called Tickle Me Emo. It’s not as good, but as long as you have something to unwrap on Christmas morning, the world continues in its normal rotation.
When Brian Burke couldn’t secure Jeff Carter yesterday, and long-time rumoured Leaf Brayden Schenn also moved elsewhere, his trigger finger was getting pretty itchy. We’re talking tough actin’ Tinactin itchy.
Now Burkie has finally turned one of those rumours into reality. Merry draft day Leafs Nation, John-Michael Liles is your newest defenceman.
In a move first reported by the Batman and Robin of NHL acquisition information and later confirmed in a press release, the Colorado Avalanche sent Liles to the Leafs for Toronto’s second-round pick in next year’s draft. Liles was widely rumoured to be a Leafs target at the trade deadline, but the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement.
The pick being moved by Toronto was acquired from Boston as part of the Tomas Kaberle deal, and is the same pick that went from conditional to concrete when the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final.
Liles waived his no-trade clause to accept the move, meaning he’s more than willing to embrace a position where he’s essentially being asked to replace Tomas Kaberle as Toronto’s offensive defenceman du jour. Liles had six goals and 40 points this year, while Kaberle finished with four goals and 47 points.
Kaberle and Liles nearly matched each other in points and in overall cap value this past season. Liles will enter the final year of his four-year, $16.8 million contract this fall before he’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He contributed $4.2 million to Colorado’s cap, while Kaberle’s championship year came at a cost of $4.25 million.
Age is the primary difference between the two, with the 30-year-old Liles three years younger than Kaberle. But Liles’ comparative youth isn’t exactly filled with exuberance and strong, healthy bones. While nowhere near the level of the league’s upper echelon of glass men, Liles has still missed 37 games over his last three seasons due to a delightful cornucopia of injuries (broken foot, bruised left shoulder, concussion, wrist injury).
The Leafs now have $18.8 million remaining to sign nine players, five of which are UFA’s (Burke wouldn’t dare let Jay Rosehill walk due to his pugnacity factor). One of those free agents is Liles’ new fellow blueliner Luke Schenn, an RFA whose rookie contract is set to expire. Schenn will likely cost more than his cap hit of roughly $3 million last year, but the young defensive cornerstone is clearly a priority along with forward Tyler Bozak, who’s also at the conclusion of his rookie deal and entering restricted free agency.
What’s daunting though is that now between Liles, captain Dion Phaneuf, and the often injured Mike Komisarek, $15.2 million of Toronto’s cap is being happily gobbled on the back end, and over the next two summers 10 forwards are hitting some form of free agency. That list includes Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, who finished second and third on the Leafs in goal scoring this year.
Thankfully, Burke won’t have to worry about Mike Brown until 2015.