After being effectively kicked out of two leagues, Michael Liambas has averaged nearly four penalty minutes per game across his 386-game professional career.
The Anaheim Ducks currently sit 24th in the NHL in goals per game. They have the 22nd-ranked power play in the NHL and have taken more shots per game than only five teams this season. And if the playoffs were to start today, the Ducks would be clearing out their stalls and holding exit meetings before leaving for a long off-season.
They must have thought Michael Liambas could help them out in their quest for more offense. After all, he came to the Ducks organization this season with 64 points in the minors. Just to be clear, that was 64 career points in the minors, not 64 points last season.
You may be looking at Liambas’ name and thinking you’ve heard or read it somewhere before. That would likely have been early in the 2009-10 Ontario League season, when a 20-year-old Liambas of the Erie Otters chased down a 16-year-old Kitchener Rangers defenseman named Ben Fanelli and got him with a vicious, predatory hit that put Fanelli in intensive care and on the sidelines for the rest of the season. Liambas was suspended for the rest of the OHL season, effectively ending his junior career.
But his reign of terror didn’t end there. He went on to play that season in the International League, where he received a five-game suspension for a hit that ruptured the spleen of an opponent. Late in the next season with the University of British Columbia, Liambas went after one of the best players from the University of Alberta and sucker punched him, then drove him to the ice. The player suffered a concussion and missed some playoff time and Liambas was suspended four games, pending a review. Shortly after that he told the school he was leaving to pursue a career in the ECHL.
So here we have a guy who was effectively kicked out of two leagues and has since gone on to play 386 professional games, racking up 1,451 penalty minutes in the process. Through his pro career, he has averaged 3.76 PIM per game and 0.05 points. He has been in 145 fights and, get this, he was under suspension for an elbowing incident when he was called up by the Ducks. Instead of having him sit out his one-game sentence, the Ducks summoned him and have so far played him in three games. And in those games, he’s spent more time in the penalty box (16 minutes) than he has with his skate blades on the ice (14:03). And of the 628 shots on goal the Ducks have this season, he has one of them.
In some quarters, the Liambas story will be seen as one of redemption, an undersized guy who worked hard and slugged it out in the backwaters of minor pro and never gave up on his NHL dream and wow, isn’t that wonderful. Never met the kid, don’t know anything about him, but I wouldn’t be the least surprised if he was another in a long line of on-ice enforcers who are teddy bears away from the rink and have hearts of gold. He’s probably one of those guys who has all kinds of time for fans, visits kids in the hospital and helps old ladies across the street. One of those character guys who’s great in the room.
Don’t care. Michael Liambas has no business being anywhere near an NHL ice surface, but that’s exactly where he has been the past three games. According to dropyourgloves.com, there have been 0.26 fights per game this season, which is the fewest we’ve seen since before the 1967 expansion. But for some reason, the Ducks thought it would be a good idea to call up a player whose only redeeming quality as a hockey player is that he can beat up people.
But the Ducks aren’t the only ones. NHL teams keep signing guys like this, or at least giving them chances. The year after his hit on Fanelli, Liambas was invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie camp. He has at different times signed contracts with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators (who called him up and gave him his first NHL game last season) and now the Ducks.
If all guys like this did were hit and fight, that would be one thing. But Liambas is the kind of player who ends careers. He’s a minor pro sideshow whose antics belong in the Federal League, not the best league in the world. Chances are, Liambas won’t get enough ice time to ever have that much of a negative impact, but just watch what happens if the unthinkable happens and this guy goes out and recklessly ends another player’s career. That’s what these guys do. The same guys who are supposed to be the ones protecting players are the same ones who are involved in a disproportionate number of incidents that give the game a black eye.
And those same people that admire this guy will be clucking their tongues and talking about how unfortunate it all is and how it has nothing to do with fighting in hockey.
Carry on, then.