I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the Michael Liambas situation.
Liambas, formerly of the Ontario League’s Erie Otters, became infamous for fracturing the skull of then-16-year-old Kitchener Ranger Ben Fanelli on a gruesome hit that was, at the least, an extreme case of charging. Now the Toronto Maple Leafs are giving the 21-year-old Liambas a chance to catch on with the American League Marlies.
Personnel decisions are clearly GM Brian Burke’s to make and he can recruit whomever he wants, but I wonder what good can come of this. James Mirtle pointed out in the Globe and Mail that Liambas has his supporters and that the young man is both charitable and intelligent; a great student even.
But can he play hockey?
Not to sound trite, but other than fighting and boarding, I haven’t seen much on the Liambas resume. His 5-foot-9, 204-pound build is very Tie Domi, but Domi once scored 43 points in a season for the OHL Peterborough Petes and 29 for the NHL’s Maple Leafs. Liambas never scored more than five points in junior. In 17 games for the International League’s Bloomington Prairie Thunder last year, Liambas totaled three assists. Keep in mind, the IHL (which has since merged with the Central League) was one of the lowest rungs of pro hockey.
Based on his numbers, I can’t imagine Liambas contributing to an ECHL team, let alone an AHL team. Sure, he can fight - maybe even at the AHL level - but why all the pretense then? Does anyone care if their team’s goon is a straight-A student? If Burke wants a goon for the Marlies, that’s cool. But why bring in an infamous player who can’t do anything else?
Last season, the Marlies had 6-foot-4, 232-pound Andre Deveaux under their employ. Deveaux was a good fighter, but he could also contribute on offense - he even had multiple hat tricks in 2008-09 - and was called up to the Maple Leafs on several occasions. He signed with the AHL Chicago Wolves this summer.
Liambas isn’t even the best fighter in his age group.
“There are guys who are a lot tougher that don’t have the rap sheet,” said one player agent. “And the Marlies have Richard Greenop, who would eat Liambas for lunch.”
Leadership is another quality Liambas has been lauded for, but his time with the Otters doesn’t seem to indicate that. Erie was brutal in the two full seasons he played for them, winning a total of 33 games despite having Jaroslav Janus in net and Ryan O’Reilly up front in 2007-08.
Maybe Burke thinks Liambas can draw crowds for the Marlies. He is a local kid, hailing from the suburb of Woodbridge and it’s usually not too hard to get a ticket at the Ricoh Centre.
“Quite honestly, I think it’s a publicity stunt,” said the agent. “If the kid was trying out for Phoenix, for (AHL) San Antonio, no one would care. Brian Burke’s no dummy.”
Is it about second chances? I suppose that’s a possibility and it is just a tryout, not a contract. I just hope Ben Fanelli gets this kind of consideration when he needs it as well.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday.
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