It was announced on Wednesday afternoon that the Toronto Maple Leafs had signed defenceman John-Michael Liles to a four-year, $15.5 million contract extension. Due to the fact that Liles is currently out of action with a concussion, the move is seen as a risky one by many, especially based on the lengthy term.
Liles has not played since December 22 against the Buffalo Sabres when he took a bone-crunching hit from Sabres forward Paul Gaustad. He has missed 15 games since, but is expected to return to the lineup immediately following this week’s All-Star break.
With many variables to consider, fan reaction seems to be split.
One of the big ones that worries some people is that Liles has committed a few too many defensive errors during his short time with the Maple Leafs. Being a defenceman in one of, if not the biggest hockey markets in the world, not a lot of slack is given when it comes to defensive miscues.
It’s not just a few problems on-ice that have him labelled as overpaid by some, though. To go along with the concussion in which he is currently suffering, Liles has found himself in the press box due to injury too many times over the course of his career.
Over the seven seasons that he played with the Colorado Avalanche, Liles missed six or more games on four occasions. As well, he is currently on-pace to play in just 66 games this season.
However, the positives must be looked at also.
One of those positives is that he has proven to be a solid power play quarterback. A three-time 40+ point scorer, he knows how to get the job done offensively and can charge a team’s offence from the back-end. His crafty stick work and strong mind with the puck are certainly two of his biggest strengths on the ice, which has helped the Leafs’ power play to fifth in the league.
Perhaps what he may be best for on the Leafs, though, is his veteran leadership. Now in his eighth season in the league and at 31 years of age, Liles is one of the most experienced players on the Leafs’ roster.
Leadership is something that has been a problem with the Leafs yet again this season. A young team, the Maple Leafs have struggled to remain consistent for much of the season which has resulted in them sitting in a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot rather than inside post-season position.
In fact, some of the Leafs’ most inconsistent play has come without Liles in the lineup. Since Liles went down on December 22, Toronto has gone 8-6-1, which isn’t terrible. However, on their way to that record, the Leafs weren’t the most predictable team in the league.
They began by winning the game that followed the December 22 games against Buffalo, but then went on a a three-game losing streak, which was followed up by a four-game winning streak, another three-game losing streak and now a span of three wins in four games.
Here’s what just may be the biggest positive out of Liles’ new salary, which will kick in next season: Now at an average of $3.875 million per season, Liles will come with a cap hit of just that much, which is roughly $325,000 less than his current hit of $4.2 million.
As for the term, well, four years is certainly a long period of time, especially when it involves players who have seen their share of injury troubles during their respective career. With that, there is no doubt that you can call a four-year contract a risk. Keep what was mentioned above in mind, though.
Liles is provides a strong veteran presence in a young locker room and can lead a team offensively from the back-end. Since Tomas Kaberle left prior to the 2011 trade deadline, that is something that the Maple Leafs had been searching for. While it is tough to say that Liles is the equivalent to Kaberle at times, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would fit in just as well on the Toronto blue line.
Leaf fans can now hold their breath as an impending Maple Leaf free agent is wisely taken off of the market.
Salary cap information provided by Cap Geek.
For every Leafs article on THW, follow @THW_MapleLeafs on Twitter.