Midseason Grade: A-
Final Grade: B
Joined Team: March 29, 2003 (signed after being drafted in the 5th round in the 2000 draft)
MHH Nicknames (thanks Mike!): JML, The Male Model, McDreamy, BeachNSnowGirl's Boyfriend, Johnny Hot Pocket.
- Hannan (29)
- Clark (20)
- Salei (9)
- Foote (6)
- Macias (6)
- Leopold (2)
- Nycholat (2)
- Vernace (1)
- TOT 21:32 (3rd)
- EV 16:58 (3rd)
- PK 0:31 (5th)
- PP 4:02 (1st)
*Rank is based on total minutes, not average per game.
Best Month: December (10pts, +1 in 14 GP)
Career Highlights: Like a lot of Avs this year, Johnny Hot Pocket set a career low for +/-, with a -19 (his first sub-zero season in the NHL).
Barring injury (or trade), Liles should easily pass Adam Foote and Rob Blake to move into 2nd on the franchise scoring list for defensemen next year. He's currently 55 points behind Sandis Ozolinsh for the all-time lead.
Report: Spoiler Alert: Liles' B is going to be the highest grade for a d-man that I give out this year. Last year, three defensemen got higher grades (Foote, Salei and Finger, for the record) from me. That JML is leading the pack speaks less about his play and more to the decline in the play of his teammates this year.
I don't think it's any secret to MHH readers that I am a big fan of the way Liles' has improved his game. A couple of years ago he was nervous with the puck in his own end and was as liable to turn it over as he was to clear it up the ice. He wasn't a big contact guy and didn't block a ton of shots. He was a typical "offensive defensemen" - one who you used carefully because of defensive liabilties.
These days, Liles is as steady as any Avalanche defenseman in his own zone and has a fesity streak to boot. Three seasons ago, Liles had 31 hits and 68 blocks and was held to 12:28 of EV ice time. Last year, he played 14:50 at EV. This year? 16:58. Oh, and he had 58 hits and 106 blocks. That won't set a record for physicality, but does show how much he's improved defensively. Not bad for a pretty boy.
Offensively, he's the best the Avs have by a wide margin. Liles led the Avalanche defensemen with 39 points, 18 at EV and 21 on the PP. I've documented elsewhere that the team really needs to get the defensemen involved more offensively, especially at even strength. In a bonafide offensive system, Liles could be in the mid-50 point range and he's got the wheels to get back to cover his ass when the play goes in the other direction.
Fun Fact: Lubomir Visnovsky (310 points) is the only defensemen from the 2000 draft with more career points than Liles (198).
The John-Michael Liles Drinking Game: Drink every time you want to say "ooh, hot pocket!" when you hear a microwave ding. Drunk potential: Moderate.
What I Said Last Year: "As much as I love Liles, the Avs already have $13 million committed to defense and that's before signing Adam Foote. Add Liles and Foote and you'd have over $20 million going to the blueliners and that seems like an awful lot of money."
2008 Salary (and Cap Number): $3.75M ($4.2M)
2009-2010 Status: Liles is signed for 3 more seasons at a rather friendly cap number ($4.2m per)
Outlook for 2009: Expect Liles to be patrolling the blueline as one of our top 4 as well as manning the point on our powerplay again next year. It would be nice to find a playmate for Liles for the powerplays to free him up to sneak into the slot a little more often, but that's probably asking too much. Honestly, if we could just find a coach who would take the offensive shackles off the defensemen a bit more often, Liles' offensive game could really take off (especially at even strength, where his numbers have been pedestrian).
One worry: Adam Foote and Scott Hannan have no-trade clauses and Brett Clark has a no-trade salary. If the Avs are going to shake up their roster and trade a defensemen this summer, the two most plausible candidates to move are Liles and Ruslan Salei. Liles has a limited no-trade clause (I believe there's a list of 10 teams or so he could be traded to), a cap friendly number and he's a marketable commodity. I hope it doesn't happen.
Next Up: Brett Clark (on Monday)