With the flurry of moves leading up to the trade deadline, I covered the trade aspect of each of the moves as they happened, but sort of have an IOU for writing about the departed players. Eric Staal is going to take some time. It is hard to put 12 years of hockey into a single post.
But today I wanted to take the time to tip my Carolina Hurricanes cap to John-Michael Liles. Liles around in a New Year’s Day deal for Tim Gleason. At the time the deal happened, it was basically a swap of bad contracts for players who were not living up to expensive deals. In return for Tim Gleason, the Canes received modest salary savings (which might actually have been the biggest part of the deal at the time), and both teams received a player who had at least some chance of rebounding with a fresh start.
When Liles arrived, he was a formerly very good offensive defenseman whose game had decreased in Toronto to the point where he was basically a reclamation project. The optimistic hope was that he could be an adequate third pairing defenseman and maybe refind some portion of his offensive ability and help a Canes power play that was struggling at the time. When inserted into the lineup, he did not do much to spark the power play but was at least serviceable defensively.
His game as a Carolina Hurricane has grown from there. In a fit of irony, he spent much of last season paired with Tim Gleason after he was bought out by Toronto and returned to the Hurricanes. In that role he grew to become a serviceable top 4 defenseman which is where he was projected to start the 2015-16 season alongside newly acquired James Wisniewski. Wisniewski’s injury changed those plans significantly and also set the stage for John-Michael Liles to make a huge contribution to both the 2015-16 Carolina Hurricanes and also the Hurricanes of the future.
When a short trial of Michal Jordan failed, John-Michael Liles was tasked with leading a second pairing that suddenly included a player who was only last spring playing college hockey. Brett Pesce deserves a ton of credit for how mature his game is positionally and sorting things out which is often the place where even physically skilled young defensemen can fail. But a significant and underrated part of Pesce’s smooth transition should be credited to John-Michael Liles. Early on he adjusted his game to make a conscious effort to not put Pesce in bad situations as he was adapting under fire to the NHL pace. He did an incredible job of supporting the puck and making himself available as an outlet when Pesce had the puck on his stick in his own end. I also think he made a conscious effort to play pucks forward even when sometimes needing to chip it forward instead of risking a tough situation for his learning defense partner. We do not the details, but Liles is also credited with being a great mentor by Brett Pesce himself after the trade.
Liles’ play in the 2015-16 saw him boost his play to the point where his trade contributed third and fifth round draft picks toward the process of building for the future, but I think his biggest contribution will prove to be the time that he helped Brett Pesce and to some degree the other young Canes defensemen get their feet under them in their rookie seasons.
For that, John-Michael Liles deserves a tip of the cap and a thank you from the Carolina Hurricanes and its community.