This afternoon the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs Brian Burke locked up veteran puck moving defenseman John-Michael Liles to a four year, 15.5 million dollar contract.
In my mind this is a great move. Strong puck-moving defenseman are rare in the NHL, and Liles’s himself has been a nice surprise.
John-Michael was a replacement for Tomas Kaberle, who was actually a fan favourite in Toronto. The silent puck-carrying defenseman was smooth at bringing up the puck and setting up the power play.
Since leaving Toronto, Tomas has declined and John-Michael has filled in his role quite well. Liles has been able to do the same as Tomas or even better since arriving in the Big Smoke. He’s been able to pinch in the offensive zone usually at the right time, shoot more often (which was rare from Kaberle), and at times Liles looks like the fourth forward on the ice.
With Liles now locked in for the next four years, a log jam has emerged at the blue line and put the Leafs right up against the cap. It seems like there would be a move coming soon from Brian Burke.
Leafs are known to be looking for that top-six player, possibly a big forward who could give the Leafs some muscle up front that they've been lacking.
Here are the top defensemen who could be shipped out to make some room both in the cap and on the back-end:
1. Michael Komisarek – Komisarek has actually been quite steady for most of this season when not injured, but for a defensive defenseman his cap hit is just too high.
2. Luke Schenn – Locked in for five years, Luke had a strong rookie campaign but has never really taken that next step into being a strong shutdown defenseman, though still leads the team in hits.
3. Carl Gunnersson – The very underrated and steady two-way defenseman has a strong hockey IQ. Teaming up with Dion Phaneuf has shown that he can back up a pinching linemate as well as set him up.
4. Keith Aulie/Cody Franson – Both young and in an RFA year while looking at least for a slight raise, both have their pros and cons. Aulie, a hulking stay at home defenseman, and Franson a power play specialist who has shown he can be fairly steady when given the chance.
Out of the options, I actually wouldn’t mind Burke shipping out Luke Schenn, who I believe has good value on the open market, and packaged with someone like Nazem Kadri could really bring in a strong top-six forward.
I just don’t see Luke or even Nazem being that top player who could be a game changer, while they could be used to bring that type of player back.
Komisarek on the other hand wouldn’t have much value, but would still be useful on some teams and would help to open up room for the next few years.
Either of these two are viable options to improve the team, while helping make room both for the cap and blue line.