The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed defenceman John-Michael Liles to a four-year contract extension.
The 31-year old will make $3,875,000 per season, through until 2016. This is actually a pay-cut, considering Liles current cap hit is $4,200,000.
Liles, who has not played since late December because of a concussion, was fitting in quite nicely on the Leafs blue line since joining the organization in a trade from the Colorado Avalanche. The Leafs sent a 2012 second round draft pick to the Avs, which had been recently acquired from Boston in the Tomas Kaberle trade.
The Indianapolis native did an admirable job of replacing Kaberle’s offense from the back end. Liles had 4 goals, 17 assists in 34 games, and was a mainstay on the Leafs’ top power play unit before being placed on the injured reserve.
Philosophically speaking, the signing of John-Michael Liles signals the beginning of a new era in Leafs GM Brian Burke’s tenure. After spending much of the past three seasons moving out veterans and stockpiling the organization with draft picks and prospects, signing a 31-year old to a four year contract is certainly a diversion from Burke’s “accelerated rebuild”.
Seeing that the Leafs, the youngest team in the league, are currently sitting on the brink of the playoff picture, it looks as though Burke may set his sights on building upon his foundation. While acquiring veteran ‘rental players’ won’t be part of the plan, the trigger-happy Leafs GM will surely look to package some of his young assets for established NHL talent in the near future.
In fact, signing Liles, who was once thought of as a possible ‘stop-gap’, creates a new long-term logjam on the blue line. Burke has said all along that he values his defensive depth, but the Leafs are currently carrying eight NHL-caliber defencemen, with youngsters such as Korbinian Holzer and Jesse Blacker knocking on the door.
Liles’ resigning effectively puts Carl Gunnarson, Luke Schenn, Cody Franson, and Keith Aulie all on notice; at least one of them will likely be pulling a different sweater over their head in a month’s time.
Leafs fans can look forward to more transactions for immediate improvement in the very near future.