Although John-Michael Liles has not suited up for the Colorado Avalanche since the 2010-11 season, the defenseman was not forgotten by the fans when it came time to vote for the club’s 20th Anniversary Team.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound veteran was humbled to learn that he was named to the honorary squad.
“There’s so many great players that have come through and played for this organization,” Liles said. “I just feel really blessed to have played for this organization and to have played with some of those guys. To be named to that team is a tremendous honor.”
The Avalanche’s fifth-round (159th overall) selection in the 2000 Entry Draft is ranked second in the franchise history in goals scored by a defenseman (68), behind only Sandis Ozolinsh (72) who also was named to the Anniversary Team. Liles still holds the franchise records for defenseman assists (207) and points (275) as well.
In his first season with the Avs, Liles was named to the 2003-04 NHL All-Rookie Team after he put up 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) and finished plus-7 after 79 games.
“I had a lot of fun here coming in as a young kid at 22,” he said about his rookie campaign. “My first year with the team, we had Teemu Selanne, Paul Kariya, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Rob Blake and Footie [Adam Foote]. To walk in at 22 and be able to play with those guys kind of spoils you for the rest of your career.”
Likes continued to grow as a staple on the Avs roster. He led all Colorado defenseman in points (39), goals (12) and assists (27) during the 2008-09 season and matched an Avalanche record for a defenseman with three consecutive multi-point games.
Liles' name can be found underneath Joe Sakic’s for the second longest assist streak in Avalanche history for a nine-game stretch he set from Oct. 7-26, 2010. Last year, Tyson Barrie became the first defenseman to reach the 40-point mark in a season since Liles collected 46 points (six goals and 40 assists) in his final year with Colorado.
In total, Liles has played in 731 NHL games with the Avalanche (523), the Toronto Maple Leafs (104) and his current team, the Carolina Hurricanes (104). He has 345 points (81 goals, 264 assists) during his time in the league, and all but four of Liles’ 40 playoff appearances were with Colorado, including during the team’s 2004, 2006 and 2008 Stanley Cup runs in which he notched a combined three goals and six assists.
You can also check off an Olympic appearance for the Indianapolis, Indiana, native, who represented the United States at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
The 34-year-old Liles and current Avalanche rear guard Erik Johnson are the only two blueliners still playing in the NHL to be named to the team.
“There’s just a lot of good memories, and I played with a lot of great guys,” Liles said of his time with the Avs. “The management and the staff were always tremendous with myself and my family.”
Due to a scheduling conflict with the Hurricanes, Liles won’t be able to attend the Dec. 7 ceremony that will honor the 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goaltenders named to the 20th Anniversary Team.
“[Avalanche Executive Director of Media Services] Brendan McNicholas texted me and told me the dates, and I kind of looked right away but it would be a stretch,” Liles said of not being able to make a trip back to Denver. “It would be a pretty amazing thing to come back for, especially with those guys.”
For now, Liles is focused on playing to his strengths and helping his team be successful.
“I’m almost 35, but skating is still a strong part of my game. I try to focus on that and utilize that to bring positives to the team,” he said about his expectations for this season. “Then just being an older guy, I try to set a good example and help out any way I can with the young kids.”
At the end of the day, it’s his passion for the game that keeps the defenseman going.
“I love coming to the rink and being around the guys,” he said. “At the end of the day, you have your ups and downs and you try to minimize the highs and lows, but you still get to play a game for a living.”
He continued with a laugh: “I try to focus on that and if I lose focus, my dad tends to remind me very quickly. So that’s always a pretty easy adjustment. When I tell him it’s a bad day, he tells me he’s been working on spreadsheets for four straight hours. That usually sets me straight pretty quickly.”
Liles is quite busy between October and April, but he still calls Colorado home, as he and his family resides in here in the offseason.
“My wife and I live here now, and it’s where we’ll end up when we’re done,” he said of Denver. “It’s a great city. The fans are always great. There’s not much bad I can say.”
Liles said he will always have a special place in his heart for the Pepsi Center and the Colorado team that brought him much success in the early days of his career.
“It’s tough to narrow down great memories, like individual ones, but just the whole experience was a really great memory for me, and I just really enjoyed playing in the building and playing for the Avs. It was a lot of fun.”