The training camp additions of 5th overall draft pick Morgan Rielly and Marlies defender Paul Ranger make Leafs defenceman John-Michael Liles‘ spot on the blue line even more in question than it was last season. Liles was a healthy scratch in 16 of the Leafs’ 48 contests in 2012-13. Head Coach Randy Carlyle often inserted younger, less experienced defencemen into the lineup ahead of the 32 year old vet.
Liles is a puck moving, offensive defenceman who has never really found his way in a Leafs’ sweater. With totals of 30 points or better in all seven of his seasons as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, Liles’ offensive numbers have dropped since joining the Leafs. In his first year with the Buds, Liles put up 27 points in 66 games. Last season, Liles suited up for 32 games, recording 11 points.
If the Leafs have one thing going for them, it’s a stable of puck moving defencemen which includes Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson, Paul Ranger, Morgan Rielly and T. J. Brennan. At no point throughout his tenure as a Leaf has Liles made a pitch to stand out as an obvious choice to top that list. There are only six spots for defencemen in the starting lineup when the Leafs season begins on October 1st, against the Montreal Canadiens. Based on last year’s healthy scratches and an abundance of mobile defencemen within the Leafs organization, Liles spot on the team is certainly up in the air.
Paul Ranger’s Return
Paul Ranger’s career path is unlike the norm, to say the least. The former member of the Tampa Bay Lightning showed a lot of promise when he first joined the NHL. At 6’2″ the Leafs new blue liner moves around the ice smoothly, distributing the puck with finesse while reacting offensively with instincts you can’t teach. Ranger is a good hockey player, but his NHL career was severely halted by a mysterious three year absence from the league.
Paul Ranger Is Granted Indefinite Leave Of Absence By The Tampa Bay Lightning
From Examiner.com – article written October 26, 2009.
In the article, former Lightning General Manager, Brian Lawton is quoted saying, “Before Saturday’s morning skate for the Buffalo game, Paul indicated to coach Rick Tocchet that he and the team might be better served if he took a personal leave. After some internal consultation and further discussions with Paul, we agreed with him on both fronts and intend on allowing him the personal time he needs. There will be no further comment from the Lightning or our players and coaches on this matter and we ask that everyone please respect Paul’s privacy at this time.”
That personal leave, lasted four years. After all that time away from the game, Paul Ranger is finally ready to once again suit up for an NHL team. In last night’s preseason opener, Paul looked very strong for the Leafs, skating effortlessly with the puck and making smooth plays under pressure. Ranger joined a rush late in the 2nd period and capitalized on what held up as the game winning goal for the Buds. Watch highlights of the Leafs first 2013-14 preseason game here.
Ranger was overwhelmed and excited to be back in the NHL, he told CityNews on the first day of Training Camp – September 12, 2013.
“It means everything,” he said, the tears welling up and spilling over the corner of his eyes serving testament. “This is huge and I know it. It’s a big part of my life. All I can say is I’m really excited for it. I’m emotional about it because it means so much. I know that I have greatness within me and I’m going to prove it.”
Read the full CityNews article on Paul Ranger here.
Morgan Rielly Is For Real
It’s unclear whether Leafs’ defenceman Morgan Rielly will make the team this season, but he stood out last night against the Philadelphia Flyers, in London. Rielly is an excellent skater, puck carrier and passer, utilizing all three weapons when the situation calls for it. It’s hard to judge a young player by one preseason game, in fact, it’s completely pointless, yet if you take last night’s game as an isolated event – Rielly looked very strong.
Where Morgan Rielly plays his hockey this season may have nothing to do with his performance in training camp. The Leafs 19 year old cannot play in the AHL, meaning he plays with the big club, or goes back to the Western Hockey League for the year. Leafs staff don’t have long to decide, either. Once the NHL regular season begins, Morgan Rielly can only remain a Leaf for ten games before a final decision must be made. If the Leafs choose to keep Rielly on the roster for the remainder of the season the first year of his NHL contract will kick in immediately. However, if they choose not to keep Rielly on the roster he will be sent back to his WHL team, the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Sending Rielly back to the WHL will allow him the opportunity to represent Canada at the World Junior Tournament, and possibly provide him an opportunity to be moved to a Memorial Cup contender.
Liles’ Contract Makes Everything More Complicated For Leafs
John-Michael Liles’ current NHL contract earns him an average of $3.875 million toward the salary cap for the next three seasons. The Leafs are not in the most comfortable cap situation as is, thus, a borderline starter with one of the highest cap hits on a defence corps deep in similar, yet younger players, makes Liles an obvious choice to be dealt very soon, if there is a market for his services.
The Leafs are still trying to pen breakout defenceman Cody Franson to a contract in time for the beginning of the 2013-14 NHL season. Franson’s contract dilemma aside, if and when he is signed, he’ll bump Liles even further down the depth chart.
Captain Dion Phaneuf, responsible veteran Carl Gunnarsson, and sky-is-the-limit Jake Gardiner safely occupy the Leafs top three, assuming Carlyle is ready to run with Jake this season. A signed Cody Franson would round out the Leafs top 4. That leaves two spots open for six players – John Michael Liles, Morgan Rielly, Paul Ranger, Mark Fraser, T.J. Brennan Korbinian Holzer, Jesse Blacker, Andrew MacWilliam and Petter Granberg.
At the very least, Ranger is comparable to Liles at a much smaller cap hit of only $1 million for one season. Mark Fraser, who also makes substantially less than Liles, was a favourite of Carlyle’s last season. Also, with Fraser, the Leafs get some size, physicality and muscle they otherwise lack outside of Dion Phaneuf. Rielly, Brennan and Holzer will have to prove a lot to make Randy’s final cut, however, if one or two do, Liles is in some thick competition to compete for a regular spot in the Leafs’ starting lineup. Throughout the remainder of training camp this situation will start to sort itself out, continuing tonight, as the Leafs host the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 2 of their double header.