The Toronto Maple Leafs have placed defenceman John-Michael Liles on waivers as their opening-night roster begins to come into focus.
Liles looked like the odd man out on the blue-line during the pre-season, something that became even more clear after Cody Franson signed. If he’s not claimed by another NHL team, Liles could be assigned to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
The 32-year-old has a US$3.875-million salary-cap hit. If he’s sent to the minors, $925,000 of that would come off the Leafs’ cap under the new collective bargaining agreement.
Liles said after the Leafs’ pre-season finale Saturday night that he would just “hang out” while waiting for an update on his status.
“It’s management, it’s not something that you control as a player, whether it’s me, whether it’s one of the young guys,” he. “It’s the nature of the game we’re in and the business that we’re in.”
Liles acknowledged the spotlight was brighter in Toronto than in other places he has played. Still, he has tried not to let speculation bother him.
“You’re still a professional and you’re still doing a job and that’s ultimately why we’re here,” Liles said. “The business side is the business side, and my job is to take care of playing.”
Liles scored a goal and added a primary assist against the Detroit Red Wings in the Leafs’ final exhibition game.
In addition to Liles, the Leafs put forwards Trevor Smith and Troy Bodie, defenceman T.J. Brennan and Korbinian Holzer and goaltender Drew MacIntyre on waivers with the intention of sending them to the AHL. They sent Jamie Devane, Jerry D’Amigo, Andrew MacWilliam, Josh Leivo, Spencer Abbott, David Broll, Stuart Percy and Greg McKegg to the Marlies, leaving 22 players on the roster.
One of those players is 19-year-old prospect Morgan Rielly, who could be one of seven defencemen on the opening-night roster. Rielly could play up to nine games in the NHL before Toronto burns a year of his entry-level contract.
Coach Randy Carlyle was noncommittal when asked Saturday night about Rielly being ready to play at this level.
“I think Morgan Rielly’s very close,” Carlyle said. “To say that, unequivocally, he’s ready to play in the NHL is a tough question to ask and a tougher question to answer at this point. We know he’s played very well for our hockey club, he’s a talented young man and he’s only going to get better. Those are the tough decisions that you’re faced with.”
Right-winger David Clarkson’s 10-game suspension, and enforcer Frazer McLaren’s broken finger make things tougher. The Leafs must be under the $64.3-million salary cap by the roster deadline of 5 p.m. Monday, and Clarkson’s $5.25-million hit will continue to count.
If the Leafs stick with the 22 players currently on the roster, counting McLaren and Clarkson, right-winger Carter Ashton could be the final forward. Assuming Rielly sticks around, Toronto would open the season Tuesday in Montreal with 11 forwards and seven defencemen in the lineup.
Rielly said Saturday night he “won’t have any complaints” if sent back to junior, but he feels like he’s ready to play in the NHL.
“I feel like I am there, but that’s up to the coaches if they want me to play this year or not,” he said. “They have a goal to reach, which is to play in the playoffs again. That’s what they ultimately want.”