TORONTO – He could’ve tested the free-agent waters this summer, but there was never a doubt in John-Michael Liles’ mind where wanted to play hockey.
The 31-year-old defenceman signed a US$15.5-million, four-year extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday. Liles says he’s pleased to be staying with the Leafs, who acquired him in a trade at the draft with the Colorado Avalanche.
Liles has four goals and 21 points in 34 games this season and is more than good with the notion he might’ve passed up a more lucrative deal as a free agent.
“Some guys choose to go the unrestricted route but it’s a pretty special feeling when Burkie (Leafs GM Brian Burke) went out and traded for me and knowing that he wants me there for years to come,” Liles said during a conference call. “As far as money goes, you could say that you leave some on the table. Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t … but I’m looking at it as I was negotiating a contract to stay in a place I wanted to be and play on a team I wanted to play on and live in a city I wanted to live in.
“It feels great. It’s a place that’s grown very dear to my heart, a place I was excited about getting traded to this summer.”
The five-foot-10, 185-pound American-born defenceman is in the final year of a contract he signed with Colorado that carries a cap hit of $4.2 million. Liles said his extension does contain a partial no-trade clause.
But Liles has been out of the lineup since Dec. 22 with what he says are ”concussion-like” symptoms.
“I don’t want to term it a concussion because it’s been a bunch of different factors,” he said. “We’ve been working a lot on my neck, which I think has led to some concussion-like symptoms and that’s kind of where we’ve been at.
“I think it’s on a whiplash basis, I think, more than anything.”
Liles did resume skating last week but took time off over the weekend because he didn’t feel right. Still, Liles is expecting to return to the Leafs’ lineup after the all-star break.
“We were going hard there for four or five days and there was a day where I didn’t feel as good as I had previous days so we decided to take a day off and go day by day up until the break,” he said. “I’m not going to say it was a step back because I think it’s more I didn’t feel as good as I wanted to feel … it was just a matter of making sure we’re continuing to head in the right direction.”
In 557 career NHL games with the Avalanche and Leafs, he has 72 goals and 296 points.