TORONTO - Cell phones and text messaging don’t always work fluidly in the towering peaks around Steamboat Springs, Col., where Tony Granato and his family are vacationing these days.
But that didn’t stop the news of the Maple Leafs‚ acquisition of defenceman John-Michael Liles from leaking through the wilderness of the rugged Rockies to the former coach of the Colorado Avalanche, who feels Toronto is getting a real gem on the blue line.
“I was a bit surprised, especially since the Leafs only gave up a second-round draft pick for him,” Granato said during a crackly phone interview on Saturday.
“I think it’s a great pickup for Toronto.”
Over the next few minutes, Granato, now an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, could not stop raving about the new Leaf defenceman.
If anyone has an accurate scouting reports on Liles, it’s Granato.
Back in 2003-04, Granato was behind the Avs bench when this smooth-skating kid from Michigan State busted on the scene and claimed a regular spot on the Colorado defence.
By the time Liles had completed his rookie season, he had scored 10 times, added 24 assists and provided an infusion of much-needed speed to the Avs’ back end. He would also play in 11 post-season games, solidifying him as a fixture on the Colorado blue line.
Having moved on from the Avs after the ugly lockout of 2004-05, Granato returned for a one-year stint as Colorado coach in 2008-09. Once again, he remembers watching the offensively gifted Liles put up 12 goals and 27 assists for 39 points, a good chunk of those coming on the power play.
Of course, the knock against Liles is that he allegedly is a concern in his own end, a so-called wart in his game that critics suggest is his Achilles heel.
In Granato’s mind, Liles gets a bad rap on that front. In fact, he thinks the veteran defenceman, 30, is quite sound in the defensive zone.
“He’s not going to knock people off the puck with regularity,” Granato said. “I mean, positionally, he’s undersized.
“Having said that, I certainly don’t think he’s a liability defensively. He has the speed to get back into position and he knows the routes and angles to take to cut off opposing forwards.”
From an offensive standpoint, Granato said the skills Liles brings to the rink each and every night speak for themselves.
“He has a great first pass which is important for a team trying to break out of its own defensive zone,” said Granato, who still stays in touch with Liles. “And he was in either the Top 3 or Top 5 in the league in scoring among defenceman, at least early in the season.
“He’s very coachable too. He was great for me to coach. I think Ronnie Wilson knew what he was getting when the Leafs made that trade.”
“Like I said, I was a bit surprised they got him for a second-round pick.”
Listening to Granato, it might be a more important deal for the upcoming season than Brian Burke is getting credit for.
When it comes to raw skill, Jeff Carter is a Top 10 talent in the NHL. But one Flyer official claims it was Carter’s at-times surly attitude that ultimately helped pave his way out of Philly. “He was the most miserable millionaire I’ve ever met,” said the Flyers official ... No pro sports league seems to get trashed by the media that covers it as much as the NHL. But starting the draft on Friday by having the wife and two daughters of the late E.J. McGuire at the podium was all class. By no coincidence, “class” is a good word to describe McGuire, the former head of Central Scouting who succumbed to cancer two months ago ... Given the success the Carolina Hurricanes had by taking diminutive Kitchener forward Jeff Skinner a year ago, it should come as no surprise that they jumped at the chance at grabbing another short Ranger, defenceman Ryan Murphy, at No. 12. After all, Skinner won the 2011 Calder as the league’s top rookie, so why argue with success?
Richards is no troublemaker
Attention to those already on the Los Angeles Kings bandwagon: Please shove over and make room.
Because there are plenty of us waiting to get on.
In fact, after the acquisition of prized centre Mike Richards on Thursday, it says here that the Kings are just one or two moves away from being co-favourites in the western conference in 2011-12.
It was interesting to hear some of the quotes coming out of Philly that Richards and Jeff Carter were moved partially in order to change the culture inside the Flyers dressing room.
In the case of Richards, if that was a concern, why would Kings assistant John Stevens, who coached Richards in Philly, help convince GM Dean Lombardi that giving up stud prospect Brayden Schenn, up-and-comer Wayne Simmonds and a second-round pick in 2012, was worth the price?
The same could be asked for Kings head coach Terry Murray, who was an assistant with the Flyers for part of Richards‚ tenure there.
Answer: Because they know this guy has big stones, an even bigger heart, and is a winner.
Just ask Peter DeBoer, his junior coach who won a Memorial Cup with him in Kitchener. There is an Olympic gold medal from Vancouver on Richards‚ resume too. And he did help a Flyers team with leaky goaltending go all the way to the final a year ago.
It was a mistake on his part to be surly at times with the Philly media, justified or not, because it was a battle he was never going to win. On the ice, however, there are few battles he loses.
After almost disappearing from the scoresheet against the rough and tumble Bruins in the Stanley Cup final, do you think the Sedins are going to enjoy having this guy in their faces every time the Canucks play the Kings? No way.
Richards, 26, would have been a perfect fit for the Maple Leafs. He can be a No. 1 centre and he’s a great penalty killer, filling Toronto’s two most glaring needs.
In the end, even a package of Nazem Kadri and Nikolai Kulemin wasn’t apparently good enough to satisfy Flyers GM Paul Holmgren.
On a team featuring Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, the addition of Richards might very well turn the Kings into the best in the west.
Induct Gilmour — NOW!
Doug Gilmour continues to take the high road when it comes to being snubbed by the Hockey Hall of Fame.
He politely refuses to comment on the matter.
So we’ll do it for him.
While respected colleague Steve Simmons and yours truly don’t always agree, we are on the same page when it comes to the Hall’s announcement of 2011 inductees this week.
If Gilmour is not on the list — again — it’s a sham.
A Stanley Cup in Calgary. Seventh in all-time post season scoring. Seventeenth on the all-time scoring list.
This is the same Hall in which Clark Gillies and Bernie Federko are honoured.
It’s about time that Gilmour gets the same treatment.