The Tampa Bay Lightning are looking forward to their first game of the season on Thursday, and are focused on what they need to do on the ice to be successful. However, there’s a seasoned defenseman who recently cleared waivers (by the Toronto Maple Leafs) named John-Michael Liles that could help the Lightning solidify their D-unit in the immediate future.
The John-Michael Liles Question: Why Him, Why Tampa?
Normally I may not be suggesting such a move, especially this early in the season and given the fact that the Lightning have a plethora of defensemen to call on, but John-Michael Liles has great experience and finesse, and he may very well be the addition the Bolts need to solidify their blue line.
As the above video shows (thanks to NHL.com), John-Michael Liles can still bring it. That goal was just under a week ago, but as his current situation on waivers shows us, a lot can happen in that time frame. Liles still has a large contract given his limited role under Leafs coach Randy Carlysle, and had to be moved to free up cap space for new contracts to the likes of David Clarkson, Cody Franson, Nazim Kadri, Phil Kessel, and others who are a better fit for the current Leafs system. This situation doesn’t mean that Liles playmaking ability has passed by any means, and given a renewed spirit on a more offensive team (which plays to his strengths) he could be very effective here in Tampa.
Now that John-Michael Liles has been placed on waivers and is playing for the Toronto Marleys of the AHL, his contract becomes a little more flexible which is good news for the Bolts. The organization can get him for a reduced price to help them maintain good cap space in case they need to make a move later in the season, making him even more attractive to the organization. He also brings a much needed pop to the blue line as someone who can quarterback a powerplay and drop clap-bombs form the point through traffic at a moment’s notice.
Tampa Needs His Defensive Leadership
John-Michael Liles has long been known for his play making abilities, something that fits very well with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s run-and-gun offense, and he has the experience to help the Bolts new arrivals get settled into the league, and mature at a faster rate. This is great news for Victor Hedman fans, as Liles will be an excellent mentor for the high draft pick of the Bolts who is still coming into his own in the league. Liles will be able to teach Hedman advanced ways to lead the powerplay, and when it’s best to jump into the offensive zone to maintain breakout coverage while still enhancing offensive zone chances and overall play.
With the aging Sami Salo becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, the Liles move makes even more sense. He is 7 years younger than Salo, has only about 2 seasons less experience than Sami, and would be less of a cap hit to the team due to the waivers placement. John-Michael Liles also only has 2 years left on his current contract meaning the Bolts could purge him next season if this transaction doesn’t pan out.
— TB Lightning Feed (@TBLightningFeed) September 30, 2013
— Erin Brown (@rinkside) October 2, 2013
The above Tweets hint at Head Coach Jon Cooper’s focus for this season, which is defense first. This means more emphasis will be placed on core defensmen such as Matt Carle, Eric Brewer, and the previously mentioned Hedman who have all shown significant weaknesses in their game in years past. John-Michael Liles being placed on waivers gives this group a chance to add a seasoned vet to the roster who will help all Tampa D-men understand when to stay at home in their zone, and when to rush the puck up to create the perfect balance of defense leading to scoring.
Negligible Negatives to Consider
There aren’t really too many negatives to this potential deal, as the Bolts style of play fits in with Liles’, which was the main reason he was on his way out with the Leafs. Being placed on waivers is an added bonus as it drives his cost and cap hit down as well. However, to make certain you are getting the right deal you must weigh all the elements.
First off, John-Michael Liles has been known to have gaps in his defensive zone coverage, which he will need to continuously work on similar to other previously named Lightning defensmen. He also has lost a step as he’s aged, and can get caught up in the offensive zone leading to an odd-man rush the other way. Finally, his plus-minus over the past few seasons has been a source of frustration, and he has been known to miss some time due to injury.
All of that being stated, he should pick his game up if Tampa were to sign him, as he would have a renewed sense of hope and drive in his game, and that could be the jump he needs to burst back on to the scene as one of the elite blue-liners in the game today. This is a move that could truly benefit the Bolts in the immediate future, and at a bargain price, which is why the Tampa Bay Lightning should reach out to John-Michael Liles for this season, next, and possibly beyond.
Like what you’ve just read? Follow me on Twitter: @pep30
Mike has covered the St. Louis Blues and Tampa Bay Lightning in depth for The Hockey Writers since 2013. He is also a contributing writer for KSDK News Channel 5, the St. Louis area NBC affiliate, and has been a credentialed media member of the Blues since 2014. Follow him on Twitter @pep30.