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Not only did the Toronto Maple Leafs address their need for a centre to play on the top line this offseason, but the team also went out and acquired two new defencemen in John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson. Having given up only one defenceman─Brett Lebda─there should still be one available to trade.
The Maple Leafs currently have seven NHL defencemen on their roster that will compete to fill out six spots. They are Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn, assuming he is re-signed, Keith Aulie, Cody Franson, Carl Gunnarsson, Mike Komisarek, and John-Michael Liles.
Notice that list does not include the likes of Jeff Finger and Matt Lashoff, who still have a chance at making the big club this September.
In other words, the Leafs have a seriously strong defence corps. That is generally a good thing, but when you have so many NHL caliber defencemen, why not trade one of them if the price is right?
All seven─again, not including Finger and Lashoff─have proven that they can play at the NHL level and that they can be an integral part of the team’s success.
Phaneuf finished strongly last season alongside an impressive Aulie, Schenn and Franson had a career years, Gunnarsson was shaky at times but was still a good player and is developing, and Liles can put up good numbers.
What many people still are not comfortable with is the idea of Komisarek suiting up for the Maple Leafs this season. While he is certainly capable of playing solid defence and shutting down some of the best players of the game, he has been nothing short of a disappointment in Toronto.
With that said, general manager Brian Burke would probably like to move Komisarek and his $4.5 million cap hit. However, not only does the 29-year-old defenceman come with a heavy salary, but he also retains the right to block any transaction the Maple Leafs attempt to complete that involves him, even if it’s as simple as sending him down to the American Hockey League.
Komisarek’s minus-17 rating over the last two years, along with his expensive contract and no movement clause makes him one of the toughest players to move in the entire NHL.
Perhaps a more liable option would be to put Gunnarsson up for trading.
The native of Örebro, Sweden scored 20 points in 68 games last season─his second in the NHL. During the 2009-2010 campaign, Gunnarsson had 15 points in 43 games to go along with a plus-8 rating. That makes him plus-6 over the last two seasons in two more games than Komisarek has played in the last two seasons combined.
Gunnarsson also comes at a cheap price with a cap hit of $1.325 million per season. That, combined with his impressive statistics and future development, could fetch a decent return. Remember, just because he recently signed a new contract with the Leafs doesn’t mean he will be donning the blue and white all season.
Speaking of which, Liles is also a possibility.
The 30-year-old scored 46 points in 76 games last season for the Colorado Avalanche before being traded to the Maple Leafs.
While Liles is certainly less likely to be traded than many other Leaf defencemen, there is still a chance he gets moved. However, a trade involving Liles probably wouldn’t go down until sometime around the trade deadline.
With only this coming season remaining on his contract, the native of Indianapolis, Indiana could find himself as a rental defenceman come February. That is, if the Maple Leafs can manage to get a second round draft pick; the same thing they gave up to get Liles.
If the Leafs are going to move a defenceman, they will have to get a good return. Knowing Burke, he will not settle for anything less than he deserves. With Finger and Lashoff waiting in the shadow and one defenceman set to be cut from the opening day roster, the Leafs don’t have to worry about depth when it comes to the back-end.
With that said, the Maple Leafs should consider trading a defenceman, if they aren’t already. Komisarek, Liles and Gunnarsson are all options that could fetch a decent return.