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Liles Better Suited To Be The Leafs’ Captain

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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.

Filed in: NHL Teams, Toronto Maple Leafs, Greg Thomson, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: john-michael+liles

Comments

BrendonR's avatar

So as a Canadian, and as a HUGE Red Wings fan, I have to say as a more peripheral,  though still passionate Leafs supporter, I have to say that the obvious response here is that Phanuef is Canadian, and comes across as a real Canadian boy, hesitant to embrace the media, quick to rally his teammates, he’s the perfect guy for the job.

Posted by BrendonR on 07/23/11 at 09:36 PM ET

Doug Miller's avatar

I couldn’t agree with you more. Liles is one of the most underrated defensemen in the league right now. He had been streaky throughout his career, but it looked like he really found his groove last season with the Avs. I might also be partial to him because he was one of the few ‘under the radar’ pickups I made on my fantasy team last year, which really helped save my blue line, and ultimately win my league.

He’s also great when paired up with a younger player, and I’d say one of the main reasons Kevin Shattenkirk had the kind of rapid development that he did, which then upped his stock big time, and allowed the Avs to make that big trade with St. Louis.

The Leafs are lucky to have him, and if they are smart, they will keep him.

Posted by Doug Miller from Wyandotte, MI on 07/23/11 at 10:10 PM ET

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So as a Canadian, and as a HUGE Red Wings fan, I have to say as a more peripheral,  though still passionate Leafs supporter, I have to say that the obvious response here is that Phanuef is Canadian, and comes across as a real Canadian boy, hesitant to embrace the media, quick to rally his teammates, he’s the perfect guy for the job.

Thanks for the comment, Brendon. From all indications, he does rally his teammates and gets them fired up at the right times, but the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs needs to work well with the media. If your representing the organization playing in the Mecca, or as Brian Burke says, ‘The Vatican’, you need to speak up and act as a voice for the team. That is an area where Liles excels over Phaneuf.

Posted by Greg Thomson from Toronto, Ontario on 07/23/11 at 10:40 PM ET

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I couldn’t agree with you more. Liles is one of the most underrated defensemen in the league right now. He had been streaky throughout his career, but it looked like he really found his groove last season with the Avs. I might also be partial to him because he was one of the few ‘under the radar’ pickups I made on my fantasy team last year, which really helped save my blue line, and ultimately win my league.

He’s also great when paired up with a younger player, and I’d say one of the main reasons Kevin Shattenkirk had the kind of rapid development that he did, which then upped his stock big time, and allowed the Avs to make that big trade with St. Louis.

The Leafs are lucky to have him, and if they are smart, they will keep him.

Glad to hear that, Doug. He had somewhat of a breakout season last year, with an impressive 40 assists in 76 games. He’s expected to play on the second pairing with Luke Schenn, who thrived alongside Tomas Kaberle last season. Liles should provide a similar steady presence that will compliment Schenn’s game.

Posted by Greg Thomson from Toronto, Ontario on 07/23/11 at 10:46 PM ET

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He got bounced out of Calgary because unlike a class act like Jarome Iginla, Phanoef was a jerk.  He’s still a jerk in Toronto and should not be Captain.  His nationality has nothing to do with it.  Charles Manson is an American does that mean I’m supposed to think he’s a better guy than a law abiding decent Canadian?  A jerk is a jerk no matter where he’s from.  Calgary thought he’d be there forever they unloaded him for a reason.

Posted by 13 user names on 07/23/11 at 11:08 PM ET

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He got bounced out of Calgary because unlike a class act like Jarome Iginla, Phanoef was a jerk.  He’s still a jerk in Toronto and should not be Captain.  His nationality has nothing to do with it.  Charles Manson is an American does that mean I’m supposed to think he’s a better guy than a law abiding decent Canadian?  A jerk is a jerk no matter where he’s from.  Calgary thought he’d be there forever they unloaded him for a reason.

Phaneuf isn’t a jerk. He thought that he should of been the Flames leader, leading to disagreements between him and Jarome Iginla. However, I do agree that one’s nationality should contribute to the decision of whether or not they are appointed as captain.

Posted by Greg Thomson from Toronto, Ontario on 07/23/11 at 11:15 PM ET

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^should not*

Posted by Greg Thomson from Toronto, Ontario on 07/23/11 at 11:15 PM ET

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Liles may very well be a class act and be suited for the role from a media perspective, but he has yet to take the ice as a Leaf. It is impossible to say where he fits with the team, or the leadership role he assumes in that locker room. It is incredibly premature to say he should be captain over Phaneuf, while entertaining the media is an aspect of the job it isn’t the only aspect. The Captain has to be a leader on the ice, and past success on other teams does not indicate he will be given the same role in Toronto. Add that to the fact we don’t know where he will actually slot into the line up (we can assume), I’d rather not have a captain on the 3rd defensive pairing though I assume and hope he will do better then that.

Many things go into choosing a captain, I think you’ve done a great job outlining what hes done off the ice but lets wait and let him play a few games before we suggest he should be captain or even assistant captain material.

Posted by Neel on 07/23/11 at 11:48 PM ET

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Many things go into choosing a captain, I think you’ve done a great job outlining what hes done off the ice but lets wait and let him play a few games before we suggest he should be captain or even assistant captain material.

Thanks for the comment, Neel. I’m simply pointing out that Liles would be better suited than Phaneuf because of his character and experience. It will be interesting to see how to plays this fall.

Posted by Greg Thomson from Toronto, Ontario on 07/23/11 at 11:59 PM ET

Primis's avatar

I’m an MSU fan who has followed Liles since his collegiate days.  The Magnificent JM Liles certainly seems to be a nice enough guy and a smart enough one, but I don’t know if his on-ice example makes him suited to a leadership role.  Nor do I know how he actually is in the locker room.

I do know Liles flat-out disappears on the ice for games at a time, or at least has in his Colorado career.

As far as him vs Phaneuf…. I personally think you could name a number of players that’d be more-personable, better with the media, and possibly a better example on-ice than Phaneuf.  My personal take is that when comparing to Phaneuf, it’s not exactly a very high bar you’re setting….

Posted by Primis on 07/24/11 at 12:52 AM ET

WingMan's avatar

Gotta remember Phaneuf was not picked for his outgoing personality, etc…  He was picked because in the room - where it matters to the players - he is the guy running the show.  For me, the media thing is not necessary - a nice to have perhaps.  A captain has to lead his team, and find a way to help the coach get the most out of his players as well as be a leader on the ice (and off if we are strictly talking dressing room).  If a guy is not good with the media, who cares - the media can deal with that as they want.  Notice Phaneuf is not at the centre of every media scrum?  He can focus on the “team” stuff, as that should be the priority anyway!  I wasn’t thrilled he was named captain at the time, but really there was no other choice and I think he has done well.  This upcoming season will be a big one for him, will be interesting to watch.

As for JML, never thought much of him as a player - decent yes but not overly consistent as someone else had posted.  With a blue-line full of big big men, Liles seems to be the small speedy guy - hope he can get some positive things done on the ice.

Posted by WingMan from The Q C on 07/24/11 at 08:23 AM ET

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So… I’m trying to be polite here but this article was just horrible. (That’s as polite as it gets).

You think they’re going to strip Dion of his captaincy to give Liles, a one-year stopgap on the blueline, the C even sooner than they did Dion? Pure insanity and a waste of the web page it was written on.

Greg, this would’ve been a good piece if you simply wrote about how you were impressed with Liles and why you are impressed with Liles as opposed to turning it into such a ridiculous question.

Posted by Leafsfan89 from Toronto on 07/25/11 at 03:06 PM ET

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Gotta agree with the above comment, this article completely ignores that Liles is not going to be a long term facet on this team.

It’d be one thing to argue that giving Dion the captaincy early on in his career here was the wrong move, but to argue that Liles should have it instead seems ridiculous.

Posted by leafsfan91 from Ottawa on 07/25/11 at 10:21 PM ET

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As far as him vs Phaneuf…. I personally think you could name a number of players that’d be more-personable, better with the media, and possibly a better example on-ice than Phaneuf.  My personal take is that when comparing to Phaneuf, it’s not exactly a very high bar you’re setting….

Fair enough. The bar was set there because he is the current captain and I am proposing an alternative solution in Liles. An example of another personable player, Luke Schenn, has the skills to be a captain in the future, but not for another three or four years.

Posted by Greg Thomson from Toronto, Ontario on 07/25/11 at 11:20 PM ET

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You think they’re going to strip Dion of his captaincy to give Liles, a one-year stopgap on the blueline, the C even sooner than they did Dion? Pure insanity and a waste of the web page it was written on.

Greg, this would’ve been a good piece if you simply wrote about how you were impressed with Liles and why you are impressed with Liles as opposed to turning it into such a ridiculous question.

I don’t think the Leafs are going to strip the captaincy from Phaneuf. What I am saying is that Liles is better suited for a leadership role than Phaneuf and I listed the reasons why. This isn’t intended as a speculative or controversial piece, rather food for thought on what Liles will and can bring to the team if he had the C.

As for a waste of the web page, I’m glad that your willing to share your opinion. Now that your comment is on the same page, does that make it no longer a waste?

Posted by Greg Thomson from Toronto, Ontario on 07/25/11 at 11:25 PM ET

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Gotta agree with the above comment, this article completely ignores that Liles is not going to be a long term facet on this team.

It’d be one thing to argue that giving Dion the captaincy early on in his career here was the wrong move, but to argue that Liles should have it instead seems ridiculous.

Liles is not necessarily a stop gap. The Leafs traded a second round pick to acquire him and have coveted him since the trade deadline. If he performs well this season, he could earn a multi-year extension and potentially push Gunnarsson out of the lineup.

I’m not arguing that Liles SHOULD have it. However, I do feel as though he is better suited for this type of role.

Posted by Greg Thomson from Toronto, Ontario on 07/25/11 at 11:27 PM ET

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I like the article… but your response comments back to readers are a bit juvenile, in particular the response back to Leafsfan89.  Perhaps you should take a page out of JMs book?  Thank them for taking the time to read your article and move on.

Posted by curious from dc on 08/01/11 at 01:01 PM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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