jmlilesunderrated

John-Michael Liles’ hot start deserves more attention

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Perhaps it’s especially appropriate to discuss under-the-radar performances this week, considering the fact that hockey fans, bloggers, writers and other people around the game might begin campaigning for write-in candidates regarding the All-Star Game voting.

One player who shouldn’t be ignored, even though he almost certainly will be is John-Michael Liles of the Colorado Avalanche. At one point not too long ago, the offensive defenseman was the source of derision, a scapegoat for the Avs’ newly found post-lockout struggles.

After putting up some solid but unspectacular numbers in his seven-year NHL career, Liles now finds himself quietly rising among the league’s leaders in points for defensemen. He nearly scored a hat trick tonight in Colorado’s dominant performance against St. Louis, scoring two goals and adding an assist to help the Avs beat the Blues 6-3.

Liles began the season red-hot. In fact, the 30-year-old defenseman broke an obscure scoring record for defensemen by earning at least one assist in the first nine games of the season, breaking a mark previously held by Ottawa’s Filip Kuba. It seemed like things were going back to “normal” after Liles went five games without a point, but he now has three games with at least one point (three goals and two assists overall) including his great game against the Blues.

That leaves Liles with an elite output to begin the 2010-11 season: he has almost a point per game with three goals and 13 assists for 16 points in 17 games. Sixteen points ties him for second place in the NHL for point scoring with Dustin Byfuglien; only Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom have more to their credit so far this season with 17 each.

Does this mean that Liles is an elite defenseman over the long haul? Not necessarily, but the veteran blueliner seems like he’s raising his game. His 22:57 average time on ice is a career high (he only averaged more than 20 minutes per game once in his career, during the 2008-09 season). He’s also making the most of those minutes; his +9 rating ties him for fifth place in the NHL in that category.

It’s not realistic for Liles to threaten a point per game pace for the entire season. Heck, that type of pace might be a bit much to expect from anyone not named Mike Green in this era of hockey. But one thing is certain: Liles isn’t getting the credit he deserves for an outstanding first 17 games.

If nothing else, he’s come a long way from the days when he was a popular choice when someone was looking for a scapegoat.

Panthers expect Campbell to test free agency

Brian Campbell
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The Florida Panthers are operating on the premise that veteran d-man Brian Campbell will go unrestricted on July 1.

From the Florida Sun-Sentinel:

[GM Tom] Rowe said that the Panthers told Campbell and his agent they want to re-sign him but it appears Campbell, who turned 37 on Monday, will test the market first.

Campbell will be one to watch on the open market. A terrific puck-mover, he finished with six goals and 31 points for Florida last season while averaging a healthy 22:17 TOI per game.

He rarely gets hurt — Campbell hasn’t missed a game in five years — and has excellent skating ability. All of these attributes mask the fact that 1) he’s not overly physical, 2) he’s not what you’d call a “defensive defenseman,” and 3) he’s had an albatross of a contract.

Signed to a whopping eight-year, $57.1 million deal back in 2008, Campbell has been pulling down $7.14M annually, which has sort of skewed perceptions of him. His $7M+ cap hit puts him alongside the likes of P.K. Subban, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Kris Letang and Drew Doughty.

But at a lesser price, Campbell might be a really good acquisition.

And what’s more, the market for transitional defensemen is already heating up.

Earlier this week, GM Don Sweeney said the Bruins would be “aggressive” in their pursuit of a puck-moving blueliner.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault conceded his club had a puck-moving problem this year, and could lose both Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle off the blueline.

Finally, there are those Campbell would be up against on the open market.

It’s not an especially deep class for defensmen: Yandle, Alex Goligoski, Dan Hamhuis and Chris Russell headline the list, which makes Campbell all the more valuable.

Max Talbot signs in KHL

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Earlier this week, we passed along word that veteran NHLer Max Talbot was contemplating a move to Europe.

On Friday, that move was made official.

KHL club Lokomotiv Yaroslavl announced that Talbot has agreed to a one-year contract. The deal comes after the 32-year-old split last season between Boston and its AHL affiliate in Providence, scoring seven points in 38 games at the NHL level.

Over the course of his 10-year NHL career, Talbot appeared in over 700 games and established himself as a gritty, hardworking forward with decent touch around the net.

He scored double-digit goals four times — including a career-high 19 in ’11-12 — and will always be remembered in Pittsburgh for scoring both goals in a 2-1 Game 7 win over Detroit at the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.

 

 

Jets assistant Vincent named AHL Manitoba head coach

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  (L-R) Assistant coach Pascal Vincent, head coach Paul Maurice and assistant coach Charlie Huddy and the Winnipeg Jets look from the bench against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Avalanche defeated the Jets 1-0 in an overtime shootout.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Winnipeg didn’t have to look far to find Keith McCambridge’s replacement for its AHL affiliate in Manitoba.

Pascal Vincent, who’s served as an assistant coach with the Jets for the last five years, will become the eighth head coach in Moose history, the club announced on Friday.

Vincent, 44, was one of the original hires when the franchise moved to Winnipeg from Atlanta in 2011. He’s worked under two different head coaches — Claude Noel and Paul Maurice — and is held in high regard by the organization.

That said, he did face some critiques this year. Jets fans were displeased with the Vincent-led power play, which posted a league-worst 14.8 percent success rate, tying Ottawa for the fewest power play goals in the NHL (38).

With today’s reshuffling, there appears to be a spot now open on Maurice’s staff. The Winnipeg Sun reports that Jeff Daniels — former head coach of the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers — could be one to keep an eye on.

Daniels played for Maurice in Carolina, and the pair went to the Stanley Cup Final together in 2002.

Sweden gets Pittsburgh flair as Hagelin, Hornqvist make World Cup roster

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 22:  Patric Hornqvist #72 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Sidney Crosby #87 and Carl Hagelin #62 after scoring a goal on Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 22, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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Pretty good 24 hours for Carl Hagelin and Patric Hornqvist.

Last night, the pair helped Pittsburgh advance to its first Stanley Cup Final in seven years.

This morning, both made Team Sweden’s roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Hagelin and Hornqvist joined Buffalo’s Robin Lehner, Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm, Chicago’s Marcus Kruger, Anaheim’s Jakob Silfverberg and Colorado’s Carl Soderberg as the final seven players named to the Swedish roster on Friday.

The updated 23-man list, in full:

G Robin Lehner, Buffalo Sabres *
G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
G Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver Canucks

D Mattias Ekholm, Nashville Predators *
D Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes
D Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
D Niklas Hjalmarsson, Chicago Blackhawks
D Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators
D Niklas Kronwall, Detroit Red Wings
D Anton Stralman, Tampa Bay Lightning

F Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals
F Loui Eriksson, Boston Bruins
F Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators
F Carl Hagelin, Pittsburgh Penguins *
F Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh Penguins *
F Marcus Kruger, Chicago Blackhawks *
F Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
F Daniel Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
F Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
F Jakob Silfverberg, Anaheim Ducks *
F Carl Soderberg, Colorado Avalanche *
F Alexander Steen, St. Louis Blues
F Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit Red Wings

* named to roster today

As far as “snubs” go, the biggest is probably Dallas blueliner John Klingberg. Klingberg, second only to Karlsson among Swedish d-men scorers this year, was passed over in favor of Ekholm.

Other notable omissions include Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad, Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist, Washington’s Marcus Johansson, Carolina’s Victor Rask, Anaheim’s Rickard Rakell and Hampus Lindholm, Vancouver’s Alex Edler and Winnipeg’s Tobias Enstrom.

In goal, Lehner beat out a host of competitors for the No. 3 gig behind Lundqvist and Markstrom. Jonas Gustavsson, Anders Nilsson, Jhonas Enroth and Eddie Lack — who used to play with Markstrom in Vancouver — were likely challengers for the spot.