Darn It, Sherman

[caption id="attachment_125" align="alignleft" width="330" caption="John-Michael Liles ; Photo by Associated Press"][/caption]

Since his rookie season you could tell John-Michael Liles would be a special player.  Liles is today known around the league as an offensive-minded rearguard who can quarterback a powerplay, but he is so much more.  Liles was the Avalanche’s best defensemen before he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs.


Let’s take a lookback at the career of John-Michael Liles

After playing all four years at Michigan State, Liles turned his sights on the NHL.  He was called up after only a few games in the minors and pieced together a very impressive rookie campaign.  He began his NHL career primarily as a point scoring defensemen with offensive poise, but Liles would eventually add different aspects to his game.

Early in his career, NHL legend Rob Blake chose to take Liles under his wing, forming one of the most fearsome defensive lines in Avalanche history.  If the guidance from Blake wasn’t enough, Liles’ roommate on road trips was none other than eventual Hall of Famer Joe Sakic.  Liles improved rapidly under the guidance of Blake and Sakic and added more skills to his already dynamic set.  Liles became more responsible defensively, faster, and continued to improve his offensive production by joining the rush up the ice.

Liles played in Germany during the 2004-05 lockout, but returned to showcase his further development for the Avs in 2005-06.  Liles’ play was strong enough to gain a roster spot for Team USA in the 2006 Olympics.  After gaining international experience playing for his country, Liles resumed his NHL season, posting phenomenal numbers for a second year defenseman.  In 2006-07, Liles was forced to focus more on his defensive play, no longer having the luxury of Rob Blake as a teammate and linemate.  Although his numbers slightly dipped, Liles polished up his defensive play and showed a slight increase in speed.  Liles showed his class when he gave up his #26 to rookie Paul Stastny so he could honor his father who was a member with the franchise when they were based in Quebec.  Liles could choose any number that wasn't retired and in the end he chose Rob Blake’s #4.  No one would fault Liles for taking #4, but Liles felt strong enough to ask Rob Blake if he minded Liles sporting his former number.  Blake approved and Liles wore the number of his mentor from then on.  Before the 2008-09 season, Liles showed up to camp stronger and quicker.  He worked out hard during the summer in an effort to improve his play in his own zone which once again improved, but he also added a harder shot with more of a bite to it.  His physicality greatly improved as he threw his weight around more often and with more success.

During the 2009-10 season, Liles was apparently in coach Joe Sacco’s doghouse after

[caption id="attachment_126" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Photo by Christian Petersen / Getty Images"][/caption]

being a healthy scratch for a few games.  Liles handled the situation with great class, not feuding with the rookie coach even though he very well could have.  Liles began the 2010-11 season as hot as any player could be, setting a new NHL record for the longest assist streak to start a season by a defenseman (9 games, 11 assists).

Liles provided much needed leadership for the young Avalanche club on and off the ice, but as good as he is, he is an even better person.  I met JM at a Conoco Player Appearance during the 2005-06 season.  I was 13 at the time and went with my Dad to meet him.  My Dad had left work early to take me and didn’t have time to change out of his Air Force Uniform.  When we were up next in line, Liles stood up (he had broken a bone in his foot at the time and was in a boot) to shake my father’s hand and thank him for his service.  He is a genuinely kind person who realizes that he can have a positive impact on people through his stardom.  He immediately saw my high school hockey jacket and was more interested in me and what I play than himself, asking how the season was going, where I play, what position I play and so on.  Too often professional athletes grow big egos and put themselves first.  With Liles you can tell he is different.  He is a professional athlete who gets it.

I was extremely mad at General Manager Greg Sherman for trading Liles before the start of the 2011 NHL Draft to the Toronto Maple Leafs for only a second round pick in next year’s draft. After watching JM for the past 7 years, I cannot believe this trade went down. Greg Sherman is the General Manager and while GM’s need a tight-nit relationship with their coach, they ultimately have the final say. It was widely known that Head Coach Joe Sacco for whatever reason didn’t think Liles to be an elite defenseman. He found himself in Sacco’s doghouse in 2009-10 despite an incredibly weak defensive corps. Sherman, quite frankly, made a dumb trade. First of all, trading Liles was a mistake, but the return (a 2012 second round pick) was nowhere near what would be considered acceptable. At age 30, Liles was one of the few veterans patrolling Colorado’s inexperienced blueline. He had a cap hit of 4.2 million and I believe he was worth every penny. The Avs aren’t up against the cap by any means, so from a financial standpoint, the trade is a head-scratcher. Trading Liles for a second round pick means that Sherman believes it is worth 4.2 million. It is not.

I feel that Sherman made a mistake. While the Avs won’t get Liles back, I would hope Sherman is clearing cap space to make a big run at free agency. If he doesn’t, Avs fans can expect another long season.

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