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Avalanche Agrees To Terms With Liles

by Staff Writer / Colorado Avalanche
DENVER - The Colorado Avalanche Hockey Club announced Wednesday that the team has agreed to terms with defenseman John-Michael Liles on a two-year contract. In addition, the Avalanche also agreed to terms with defenseman Jeff Finger and free agent forwards Ben Guite, Matt Murley and Mark Rycroft.

Liles, 25, surpassed his rookie-season totals in every scoring category last year, compiling 14 goals, 35 assists and 49 points. One of six Avalanche players to skate in all 82 games, Liles finished second among Avalanche defensemen in points and tied Rob Blake for first in goals. Liles became the first NHL defenseman to record 30 or more points in each of his first two seasons since Brian Rafalski (‘99-00, ‘00-01). The Zionsville, Indiana native made his Olympic debut with Team USA at the 2006 Winter Games, playing in all six contests for the United States (0 goals, 2 assists).

"John-Michael Liles is one of the top young offensive defensemen in the league," said Avalanche Executive Vice President and General Manager Francois Giguere. "He has been a key contributor to our blueline in his first two seasons and is a very skilled defenseman who will continue to help our power play."

A former Michigan State All-American, Liles was Colorado's eighth selection (159th overall) in the 2000 Entry Draft. He was named to the 2003-04 NHL All-Rookie Team after leading all first-year defensemen with 34 points that season (10g/24a).

Finger, 26, spent the entire 2005-06 season with Lowell of the American Hockey League, compiling three goals and 20 assists in 70 games. He led the Lock Monsters with 116 penalty minutes and ranked third in games played. Finger was added to the Avalanche's postseason roster on April 19 but did not participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Finger was Colorado's 11th choice (240th overall) in the 1999 Entry Draft.

"Jeff Finger has shown progress in his development over the last few seasons," said Giguere. "He certainly has the potential to play at the NHL level in the coming years."

Guite, a right wing who turns 28 on July 17, spent the majority of last season with Boston's AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, where he finished fourth on the team with 52 points (22g/30a) in 73 games. He played in one game with the Boston Bruins last year, making his NHL debut on Jan. 30 against Ottawa. Guite signed with Boston prior to the 2005-06 season after playing in the Islanders, Mighty Ducks and Rangers' minor league systems.

Murley, 26, spent the entire 2005-06 season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, notching six points (1g/5a) in 41 games. Pittsburgh's second choice (51st overall) in the 1999 Entry Draft, the left winger made his NHL debut with the Penguins in 2003-04.

Rycroft, who is celebrating his 28th birthday today (born July 12, 1978), played three seasons with the University of Denver from 1997-98 to 1999-2000. The right winger appeared in a team-high 80 games for the St. Louis Blues last season, notching six goals and four assists. The Penticton, B.C. native signed with the Blues as a free agent in 2000 and has spent his entire NHL career in St. Louis, notching 34 points (15g/19a) in 160 career NHL games.

In addition to those five signings, the Avalanche also announced the hiring of Jeff Hackett as the team's goaltending coach. The former netminder appeared in exactly 500 games over a 15-year career in the National Hockey League, which included stints with the New York Islanders, San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers before he retired following the 2003-04 season He posted a 166-244-56 lifetime record with a 2.90 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage.

The Avalanche also hired Terry Martin as pro scout.

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