Colorado Avalanche: Liles Can't Play Himself Out of Dog House

James CriderCorrespondent IFebruary 2, 2010

DENVER - NOVEMBER 25:  John-Michael Liles #4 of the Colorado Avalanche skates during the game against the Nashville Predators at the Pepsi Center on November 25, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Just when it looked like he was turning the corner, Liles has again found himself on the outside looking in. 

Despite 12 points and a plus-4 rating in his last 14 games, Avalanche coach Joe Sacco decided Liles was the odd man out while selecting from seven healthy defensemen before Colorado's 3-1 loss to the Rangers.

Of all the decision's Sacco has made this season, I probably agree with this one the least. Benching Liles in favor of Brett Clark—a slower, older player who has virtually no chance of being retained by the Avalanche this coming off-season—creates a situation that doesn't need to be created.

What does it say to a player who, with two years left on his contract, is sitting in favor of a guy who won't matter in six months?

Liles was no doubt going to be supplanted in time, most likely by Kevin Shattenkirk, but no one wanted the divorce to go like this. Liles has been one of Colorado's best defensemen over the past six seasons, and the second he started struggling he was outcast.

If there was any doubt before, there's no doubt now: Colorado will (at least) try to move Liles this trade deadline. 

Liles will make an annual cap hit of 4.2 million the next two seasons, which is significantly more than his skill set should have earned him, but after the equally appalling contract of Jason Blake was successfully traded by Toronto yesterday, the Avalanche probably won't have as much trouble moving Liles as originally perceived.

The Ducks, Sabres, and Hurricanes all seem like possible destinations as all three only have a handful of defensemen signed next season. Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford has scouted Liles in the past , but Colorado would likely have to take on the final year of Rod Brind'Amour's 3.6 million dollar (annually) contract should a trade between the two go down.

It must be noted that Liles has a limited no trade clause, which allows him to submit a list of 18 teams he refuses to be traded to in the event Avalanche management approaches him. It's expected that Buffalo would be a team Liles would allow a trade to, given his friendship with goalie Ryan Miller.

We'll know by March 3rd.