In an offseason that saw the Maple Leafs trade for Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi, as well as sign Tim Connolly, the move that Toronto needed the most was the trade for John-Michael Liles.
Connolly was widely regarded as a more important move because he is a big-money signing, and he also fills the well-documented need that Toronto has for a top center.
However, I think that signing Liles will have more impact on the success of the Maple Leafs next season. The problem for the Leafs last season had a lot to do with their power play, which Liles will most likely quarterback.
A puck-moving defenseman who is solid in his own zone at this point looking forward to the season will help more than Connolly, who is frequently injured and probably has left his best years behind him.
Liles may become a UFA at the end of the season, but he will still prove to be a better rental than Tomas Kaberle was for the Bruins, or Brian McCabe would be for any team that could take a chance on him.
Liles makes team captain Dion Phaneuf better on the power play by providing a stabilizing force who has a solid shot. Liles will most likely be paired during five-on-five play with Luke Schenn, who has been excellent so far in his young career.
Liles also could provide Schenn with some useful veteran insight as to some of the ways in which he could improve his game. This is an invaluable experience for a young player.
The Liles signing may not be the flashiest or highest-paying move in the offseason for Toronto, but it could be the one that allows them to contend over an 82-game schedule. This is the kind of depth move that some teams need to help them win in the playoffs.
Liles came out of Colorado for such a low price, it is tough to even think that any team would give up a chance at having him for a second round draft pick.
If anyone can provide a steady hand in front of young James Reimer, John-Michael Liles can.
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