ST. PAUL, Minn. -- We recall a long chat we had with new Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman John-Michael Liles during a trip to Denver last year. The then-Avs defenseman had suffered through a couple of down seasons in Colorado, was a healthy scratch and had been the subject of trade rumors dating back to the 2009-10 season.
He talked candidly about the journey of self-discovery he had been on, even as he turned 30.
Liles, a member of the All-Rookie team in 2004, said he had approached last season with a renewed commitment to diet and conditioning and rebounded with an NHL record nine-game assists streak to start the season. Although injury cut his season short, Liles collected 46 points in 76 games.
His move to Toronto will put Liles squarely in the glare of one of the biggest hockey markets in North America. But given he is joining a team that has failed to make the playoffs since the lockout and will be essentially stepping into a role vacated by the oft-criticized Tomas Kaberle (traded to Boston at the trade deadline), this could be the tonic for the smooth-skating Liles.
Rick Dudley, added to the Leafs' staff Friday, likes what he knows of Liles.
"[He's] a puck-moving defenseman who can join the rush. Today's game, the offensive part of the game, has become predicated on the fourth man joining the rush," Dudley said. "He's someone who can do that. I think he's a player that, maybe a change in scenery to a place like Toronto, it will obviously be very good for him. The fact that the Leafs traded a very good puck-moving defenseman [Kaberle] made it important that they get somebody like him."
It wasn't the first time the Leafs had tried to obtain the former Michigan State standout. They made a pitch at this past season's trade deadline, but the two teams couldn't reach an agreement until Friday. The Leafs sent a 2012 second-round draft pick, a pick that was previously acquired from Boston in the Kaberle deal.
Liles, who has one more year left on his contract at a $4.2 million cap hit, said he is excited at the opportunity.
"Obviously it's a new chapter in my life," Liles said in a conference call Friday night. "I hope it'll be a nice fit."