Canes need to continue path of change
Posted January 2, 2014
The Hurricanes trade of alternate captain Tim Gleason to Toronto for John-Michael Liles and prospect Dennis Roberston should not have come as that big of a shock. While trading a player who wears a letter on the front of his sweater signals a big change, this organization still has more to come.
Even though the 30-year-old defenseman brought a high level of toughness to the defensive unit, he had not been that same player the past few seasons. The 2010 season was the high-water mark for Gleason. He earned a spot on the US Olympic roster and brought home a silver medal, but the seasons that followed seemed to bring on a decline from that peak. Injuries and Gleason’s willingness to play through them have contributed to some of the off play.
A different factor for the change in Gleason’s on ice impact came from the edict to have the defenseman stop dropping the gloves. Gleason could do more help staying out of the penalty box instead of incurring five minutes for fighting, but that direction took away a big part of what made him such a key cog to the Hurricanes. Gleason never shied away from protecting a teammate or providing the spark that a well-timed scrap gives the group. It was this ability that made Gleason such a well-respected man not just within the Canes organization but around the league. The powers that be telling Gleason to eliminate that from his game was like having Secretariat plow a field. While still effective, it is not the best use of his talents. A big role that he filled for the team was as an intimidator or at least a deterrent to the opposition.
Gleason was also a fan favorite, and in a market like Carolina making this move has to pay off dividends. People don’t like to see ‘their guy’ get traded, and it is easy to see how Gleason's rugged play early in his career earned him local fans.
In an area dominated by college sports, fans don’t necessarily look at the business end of a deal, where the organization is saving about a million dollars in cap space. When they see a player being moved by the organization, (not graduation) the new guy had better produce.
Gleason was a staple and leader in the locker room, another reason that factors into this deal. The team is trying to get to a playoff level, but on more than a few nights there seems to be a malaise around the team. A way to get the attention of players is with a trade, especially one of a popular player. Add into the equation that Gleason was an alternate captain, and it gets the entire room’s attention.
A player with Gleason’s toughness is hard to replace, and with the trade of Kevin Westgarth earlier in the week for a prospect, the Hurricanes have a large void in that department. Even as the NHL is trying to end fighting in the sport, having players being willing to fill that role is something that every team needs. Brett Bellemore is a physical player on the back end, but not known for being an enforcer. As of now, Mike Komisarek and Jay Harrison will have to fill that need. With Harrison out with a concussion, the role falls on just Komisarek.
John-Michael Liles is not a fighter; he is a puck moving defenseman who should help the Hurricanes on the power play. Like Gleason, Liles is a player who the past few seasons has been searching to find the high-water mark of his game. Liles' big numbers came in Colorado, where he recorded three 40-plus point seasons in seven years. He was traded to Toronto in June before the 2011-12 season and given a four-year contract extension in 2012.
Liles couldn’t get to the game he had in Colorado, in two full seasons tallying 38 points in 104 games with the Leafs. He had only appeared in six games this year, registering zero points with the NHL club and had two stints with their AHL club.
Liles will get a chance to be that puck mover and power-play producer in Carolina that he was for the Avalanche. The Hurricanes man-advantage is 26th out of 30 teams and is in need of a steady presence on the blue line. Liles will get a crack at being the team’s point man and won’t face anywhere near the scrutiny that comes with that position like in Toronto.
Both organizations are hoping that a change of scenery will do both players well.
The Hurricanes also picked up another defenseman in prospect Dennis Robertson, who is currently playing college hockey at Brown. The sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft has favorable reports about his playing ability. While he might not step in to help the Hurricanes right away, he appears to be on the path to the NHL.
This also isn’t the last of the moves the Hurricanes front office needs to make. Changing the core and dynamics of the team is not easy, but adding the right parts to keep the team headed into the direction of being a postseason squad still needs to happen.
There is the goaltending situation that needs to be addressed. While there is no law against it, teams just do not carry three goalies on the NHL roster. While speculation will run rampant on who gets dealt where and for whom, the front office needs to make the deal that gives the Hurricanes the highest yield for what they give up. They don't necessarily have to trade the biggest name to make the best deal.
Changes still need to be made. Finding more power play help and getting bigger and more skilled up front should be on the short list. The team continues to hover around .500, and has been there pretty much every season since 2005-06. Changes can be difficult and upsetting to fans and players alike. But if this organization wants to improve it will have to make the hard changes to get them there.