NHL News: Leafs Acquire Tim Gleason for John-Michael Liles, Dennis Robertson

Image courtesy of Benjamin Reed (CC)

In the biggest news of 2014 so far (!), the Toronto Maple Leafs have traded offense-orientated blueliner John-Michael Liles to the Carolina Hurricanes, along with NCAA defensive prospect Dennis Robertson, in exchange for veteran ol’ reliable Tim Gleason.

Leafs fans will be happy to see Liles go, his $3.875m per year contract considered a burden on the team when weighed against his actual contributions to the team.  Originally acquired from Colorado in 2011 for a 2nd round draft pick (eventually used by Dallas to select Mike Winther), Liles had a solid debut season with Toronto to the tune of 27 points in 66 games and playing relatively big minutes on a bad team.  He sported decent possession numbers, whilst suffering poor luck from an awful on-ice save percentage by the team’s goalies.

Image courtesy of Zimbio.com

The following season, he lost playing time to other, younger players, but maintained solid possession numbers and boxcar stats (2 goals, 11 points in 32 games).  He also played 4 games for the team in the playoffs.  However, it was clear that his offensive contributions weren’t enough for the team, especially relative to the amount of money they were paying him, and he was frequently scratched.  The Leafs have never been a team enamoured with possession statistics, so it’s not surprising they didn’t rate Liles’ performances given his cumulative -15 rating over his first 98 games with the team.

Liles played just 6 games for Toronto this season, notching 0 points and a -2 rating, whilst seeing his possession numbers take a nose-dive in an admittedly small sample size.  He found himself playing in the AHL for a good portion of the season to date, where he was exceptional with 13 points and a +9 rating in 16 games.

Tim Gleason, a veteran of 10 NHL seasons including 8 spent with the Hurricanes, has long been considered a reliable defensive presence with a physical presence and the ability to chip in occasionally on offense.  Never an elite presence, but a very good one that most teams would take in a second.  The last two years have not been particularly kind to Gleason however, tallying just 10 points (no goals) and a -10 rating in 59 games.  He has not been a good possession player in forever either, though that is at least partially explainable by (a) playing on a bad team, like Liles, and (b) taking on far tougher minutes than the rest of his team-mates (and Liles).

His $4m per season salary, valid through to the end of the 2015-16 season (again, like Liles) may rightly baffle many when it comes to wondering why the Leafs took him on considering the complaints of many about Liles’ salary.  One major item worth mentioning is that Gleason is 3 years younger than Liles, meaning he will likely still be more effective than Liles would have been over the term of the contract.  That said, Gleason has a lot of miles on the clock for a 30 year old – over 600 games – and with the style that he plays it may wear on his body more than Liles’ style does.

Image courtesy of Dawson Creek Daily News.

Dennis Robertson may seem like a throw-in, and indeed he’s ranked 9th (of 10) on Hockey’s Future’s ranking of Leafs’ blueline prospects, but he actually sounds like a decent young player.  At 6’1″ and 215lbs he doesn’t lack for size, and has put up good numbers in each of his seasons at Brown University.  Hockey’s Future has this to say about him:

The go-to defenseman at Brown, Robertson logs heavy minutes in all situations. He has a big, hard shot, which makes him a threat offensively, particularly on the power play and is sound in his own end of the ice. He’s beginning to add more snarl to his game which is making him a more valuable defenseman.

Drafted in 2011 by Toronto, 173rd overall, Robertson is in his final year of NCAA eligibility, and will be looking to turn pro next year.  It would be surprising if the Hurricanes didn’t tender him a contract offer, although his actual NHL upside isn’t particularly clear.

It’s difficult to say how this trade will look in a few years; Liles may regain his NHL standing as a competent offensive blueliner, or he may struggle to stick with the team.  Gleason will likely have more left in him, certainly he’ll have more opportunity, but it’s hard to see Toronto being a better place for his talents to shine than Carolina was.  This seems more like swapping flawed players in the hope that a new environment may help bring out the best in them.

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