In a recent interview, Liles said he had to take some time to reevaluate his game and where he wanted to be as a player.
He returned for a bitter playoff fight against the San Jose Sharks, playing with outstanding precision like Sacco knew he could. This powerful play has carried into this season and he's never looked better. Liles has clearly solidified himself as the future of the Colorado Avalanche blueline. He started the season off with bang, registering eleven assists in his first nine games, setting an NHL record in the process and firmly establishing his veteran presence on a very young Avalanche team.
Through the early going, he leads the team in Time on Ice and sees nearly as much power play time as Paul Stastny and Milan Hejduk.
Now Liles has always been known as an offensive defenseman and quarterbacking the power play is expected by your top scoring blue liner. He has evolved from just being the guy on the point to the guy making plays and holding the team together.
His evolution to the next level is clearly visible in his patience with the puck. Often criticized for waiting to shoot or passing too much, Liles has established his scoring knack this season by striking at the right moment. Against the Detroit Red Wings, he burned Jimmy Howard by waiting for him to slide out of position and has also threaded the needle through many an attacking forward with success.
Liles' swift start and exceptional play is even more important given that the Avalanche have significant injury issues on the blueline with Kyle Quincey, Kyle Cumiskey, Adam Foote, and even Ryan Wilson missing time. Colorado has seen five new defensemen this year, three of which have had to play with Liles before finding another suitable pairing. Jonas Holos, Colby Cohen, and recent acquisition Ryan O'Byrne have all started with John-Michael, ultimately speaking to his ability to work with all styles of defenseman. He has worked with two rookies making their NHL debuts, proving he can still be effective while covering for their mistakes as well as teaching them and improving their game.
Consider Liles the unofficial captain and mentor of the new blueline given Captain Adam Foote's status with a concussion that threatened his NHL career. Scott Hannan is in the final year of a hefty contract and could lose his job to a cheaper, younger defensive prospect.
While frequently appearing in rumors at the trade deadline, Liles has played through the speculation and is now an invaluable asset. He won't be going anywhere as he is needed to reign in the young prospects and help them adapt to the post-lockout style of NHL.
John-Michael Liles is the future of the Colorado Avalanche blueline.