Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Greg Thomson on 07/23/11 at 08:16 PM ET
For a player coming to a new organization after spending almost a decade with another team, the adjustment period can last quite a while. Even if the player performs well on the ice right from the get-go, there can be a slow transition off of it.
I’ll admit, I have neither seen nor heard much of John-Michael Liles in interviews, but I am thoroughly impressed with his charismatic and contagious personality. As I began watching his interview at the Toronto Sick Kids hospital, I was taken aback by his poise and professionalism. He speaks confidently in front of the sometimes-suffocating Toronto media, answers questions thoughtfully, and embraces the opportunity to play for the Maple Leafs.
Despite growing up in Indianapolis, playing college hockey and spending the last eight seasons in the Western Conference, Liles understands the magnitude and responsibility that comes with playing for this team. He acknowledges the rich history that has proceeded before him and arrives with a firm mandate not to alter with it.
As I continued to watch the interview, I found myself more and more impressed with his knowledge of the Leafs roster and familiarity with some of the team’s recent acquisitions. He listed off the names of Tim Connolly, Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi. He then told the media where each would fit on the roster and evaluated how their style of play would compliment the team. It became apparent that Liles truly cared about the challenge ahead of him and valued the chance to have a fresh start with a young team on the rise.
This is not to say I have anything against Dion Phaneuf, who has proved to be a decent captain, but Liles is better suited for the role.
Prior to even naming a captain, Brian Burke emphasized the importance of choosing the right person because of the storied history in the organization. Dion is young, can bark at underachievers and selects the appropriate locker room music to get his teammates going, but I don’t think he is entirely ready to handle the rigors of being a captain in Toronto and acting as a voice for the rest of the team.
On the other hand, Liles is not only more experienced in the NHL, but brings his ‘A’ game in interviews – as I’ve heard from several Avalanche fans – and will be relied on as a mentor to the likes of Luke Schenn and Keith Aulie as one of only two 30-year olds on the roster (the other being Tim Connolly).
Colorado Avalanche beat writer Adrian Dater wrote in a February article that, “He’s a tremendous guy, just a class guy all around, and I’ve really come to respect him a lot.”
Dater spent a lot of time around Liles over the course of his eight seasons in Denver. He is the first man to ask when it comes to different players personalities and mannerisms both in the locker room and the community. Coincidentally, Burke prides his team on its involvement in the community and there’s no question Liles is already fulfilling this responsibility as a Leaf.
The name ‘Phaneuf’ resonates more stronger with Leafs Nation, but the captain shouldn’t be based on what a player has accomplished in a short period of time, but rather what has been exuded throughout one’s entire career. At every stop along the way, Liles has been respected by teammates for his leadership, and at this point in his NHL career, he is ready to take the next step towards becoming a captain.
With only one year left on his current contract, it remains to be seen if he achieves this with the Leafs, but I sure as hell hope he does.
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