Leafs Add John-Michael Liles And Get…

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

Goodbye hugs!

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.