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Liles impresses in pre-season finale as Maple Leafs beat Red Wings

Saturday, 09.28.2013 / 9:45 PM / News

The Canadian Press

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Liles impresses in pre-season finale as Maple Leafs beat Red Wings

TORONTO - When the Toronto Marlies and Grand Rapids Griffins open the AHL season next week, the rosters should look similar to the ones the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings put on the ice Saturday night at Air Canada Centre.

This was an NHL pre-season game, the finale for both teams, but it wasn't much of a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Two dozen players expected to start in the minor leagues helped decide the Leafs' 3-1 win.

One of those players was Toronto defenceman John-Michael Liles, who scored on the power play in the second period and picked up a primary assist in the third. Waivers could await the 32-year-old, who's likely on the outside of the Leafs' picture on the blue line.

Liles has a $3.875-million salary-cap hit, and his contract has two years left on it after this one. The Leafs have Dion Phaneuf, Carl Gunnarsson, Jake Gardiner, Mark Fraser, Paul Ranger and the recently signed Cody Franson ahead of him, and that's not even counting prospect Morgan Rielly.

In his two previous pre-season games, Liles was a nonfactor with a plus-2 rating. Asked Saturday about the veteran's play, coach Randy Carlyle only acknowledged that there were tough decisions ahead for the Leafs.

Toronto is over the cap ceiling and the roster the team submits Monday at 5 p.m. is expected to have fewer than 23 players. Right-winger David Clarkson's 10-game suspension complicates the situation in general, but it's likely not something that factors in with Liles.

Instead, he very well could be on the bad end of a numbers game. If nothing else, Liles may have used an afterthought of a pre-season game to show another team why he deserves a chance to stick around in the NHL.

Liles' performance probably won't make enough of a difference within the Leafs' organization, but in the long term forward Josh Leivo made a nice impression. The 2011 third-round pick who is about to embark on his first professional season scored twice Saturday.

Leivo's first goal was made possible by Franson's shot from the point. Unlike Liles, Franson knows he will be around Tuesday when the season opens at Montreal. But that was a late-camp development after the 26-year-old signed a one-year, $2-million deal Thursday.

Goaltender James Reimer's spot in the opening-night lineup isn't so secure even after a strong pre-season that wrapped up with 24 saves on 25 shots against a Red Wings team that dressed one over the minimum amount of veterans required for pre-season games. Carlyle already said Reimer and Jonathan Bernier would split the regular season's first two games.

The Leafs finished the pre-season 5-2-1.

Quote of the Day

I'm just excited about the opportunity. I've been on the ice earlier than usual and in the weight room, pushing around a little more weights than usual. Every day I go into a workout with a smile on my face and ready to go. When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.

— Brian Elliott to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch on being the Blues' No. 1 goalie