I was at the Air Canada Center last night for what was, mercifully, the Maple Leafs’ final contest of the 2013-14 preseason. More notably, I saw Joe Colborne’s final game as a Toronto Maple Leaf in person! OK that’s admittedly not all that exciting.
But let’s start with the inevitable trade of the player the Leafs acquired in return for Tomas Kaberle. The mechanics and internal logic from Toronto’s side is obvious: Colborne wasn’t going to make the Toronto Maple Leafs roster, and he almost surely wasn’t going to clear waivers. The situation necessitated a move lest the Leafs lose an asset for nothing, so they dealt Colborne to the Calgary Flames for a fourth round pick in the 2014 NHL entry draft (or one-third of Dave Bolland!).
The fourth rounder is of limited consequence – it’s a lottery ticket – while Joe Colborne is a big 23-year-old center who has produced at a decent clip in the AHL and would’ve only cost the Leafs 600k against the salary cap to keep this season. Even if he’s just your fourth line center – there’s some value there.
However, obviously the team wasn’t too impressed with Colborne for reasons that I think are pretty reasonable. Yes he’s been slowed by injury, but his skating isn’t particularly strong, he doesn’t use his size all that well, and he’s been prone to taking penalties during his time in the AHL. Lots of them. Then again the Maple Leafs employ Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren so…
While Colborne is a reasonably skilled center and could possess some untapped upside – even, on the low-end, as a fourth-liner and power-play specialist – I’m very much not convinced that he’s really a player. He’ll get minutes in Calgary, and Toronto doesn’t lose a player who was on his way out of the organization anyway for nothing – so in some ways it’s a win-win.
I was pretty excited to watch Detroit’s prospects play on Saturday night – neither team really dressed an NHL lineup – but it wasn’t exactly a standout game for Calle Jarnkrok or Tomas Jurco. Teemu Pulkkinen was probably the best of the Red Wings forward prospects, while Xavier Ouellet was the only Detroit player who really grabbed my attention.
I’ve watched Ouellet a fair bit in major junior, but not in about eight months. Based on what he did on Saturday night, it certainly looks like his skating has improved enormously over the past year.
Ouellet played a game high 23 minutes for the Red Wings on Saturday, and had several standout defensive sequences. He even got in on the forecheck and retrieved the puck during a forward line change at one point in the second period. That’s a Dan Boyle special and you definitely can’t pull that off if you’re slow.
Post-game at the ACC, veteran defenseman and future Toronto Marlies captain John-Michael Liles held court. He’d just finished playing what might have been his final NHL game for a while. The American puck mover had a relatively strong outing despite making a “mental error” (his own words) which cost James Reimer the preseason shutout in the third period.
Overall Liles managed a goal, moved the puck pretty well, and showed that he’s still a capable NHL defenseman (albeit not a guy worth $4.25 million per season at this stage in his career).
“It’s tough to go through an entire career without your role changing,” a circumspect Liles mused after the contest. “I think so much changes and you make those adjustments – whether it’s in the offseason or in training camp – you’re kind of always tweaking and adjusting.”
Liles is 32-years-old, so he’s a veteran, but still has plenty of hockey ahead him. He’s also a polished, experienced professional tied to a tough deal. It’s clear that Liles didn’t make the team (Toronto’s top-six will be some combination of Phaneuf, Gunnarsson, Gardiner, Ranger, Franson, Fraser and maybe Rielly), so now he’s facing a new adjustment: learning to be a very well compensated American Hockey League defenseman.
If Liles is disappointed with his current situation –