Mike Komisarek: Time To Shine Is Now
With the Toronto Maple Leafs training camp commencing on Friday there are a few key battles to keep your eye on, none of them more important than the third defensive pairing—that is, if your name is Mike Komisarek.
Since joining the Maple Leafs as a free agent in the summer of 2009 Komisarek’s play has been nothing short of disappointing.
Through 109 games Komisarek has registered a total of 14 points, 126 penalty minutes and a combined minus -17 rating with the Leafs. Injuries and poor play have contributed to Komisarek’s paltry numbers, but where Komisarek has really fallen short is in the physical department.
At the time of Komiarek’s free agent signing he was thought by many to be one of the most punishing hitters in all of hockey and one of the tougher players on the ice night-in, night-out.
The Hockey News ranked Komisarek as the ninth most desirable free agent that summer, but also warned that “whichever team signs Komisarek must do so knowing it will be paying huge money to a defensive defenseman with limited offensive potential.”
Man, were they ever right! Komisarek may have been one of the most attractive options at the time of the signing, but today he is widely regarded as one of the most overpaid defensemen in the NHL, which is not a good thing if you are Brian Burke or Komisarek for that matter.
Heading into training camp the battle on defense—especially in the bottom four—has never been better.
Komisarek, Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson, Jesse Blacker and Jake Gardiner all are expected to battle for a spot on the Maple Leafs roster, rounding out the 5th, 6th, and seventh defense spots.
A little quick math tells us that five players (and that doesn’t even include the overpaid Jeff Finger who was demoted to the Marlies last season) battling for three spots means two players will be left off the NHL roster.
Realistically, Franson and Gunnarsson look to be locks to make the roster, which means the battle for the seventh spot will likely come down to Komisarek, Gardiner and Blacker.
Offensively gifted and smooth skaters, Blacker and Gardiner bring similar games to the rink. Gardiner and Blacker could both benefit from some seasoning in the AHL, but Gardiner looks to be the more polished player—a least up to this point.
On the other hand, Komisarek brings a more defensive minded game with a measure of snarl to the rink—that is, if Komi can find that snarl that has eluded him for most of the past two seasons.
When we evaluate the Maple Leafs top four defensemen you’ll find one of the better combinations of offensive skill, shut down ability and grit in the league.
Captain Dion Phaneuf looks to be rounding into his leadership role while slowly making his way back to the all-star form we know he is capable of. Offensively gifted and hard hitting, Phaneuf does have moments of defensive stupidity to his game, but when partnered with the likes of Keith Aulie or Luke Schenn (two defensive minded defensemen) he can be a very effective player.
Newly acquired John-Michael Liles brings veteran leadership, the ability to quarterback the power play and experience to the backend and is expected to play on the Maple Leafs’ second defensive unit along side Schenn or Aulie.
Gunnarsson is a big body defenseman with a heavy shot that is evolving into an all-round defenseman. Strong, agile for his size and relatively cheap in terms of cap hit ($1.325 million), “Uzi” is likely to see plenty of action this season.
Ideally, the Maple Leafs would like to see more offense from their defensemen this season. The Maple Leafs defense scored a total of 27 goals, including three from the departed Tomas Kaberle and two from Francois Beauchemin who was also shipped out of town last season.
Of those 27 goals only four came on the power play—three of which came from Dion Phaneuf.
Both Franson and Liles are expected to bolster the Maple Leafs both five-on-five and on the power play, but an additional threat in the form of Gardiner or Blacker may also be a welcome addition to a lineup that is in dire need of offense from their defense.
Which brings us back to Komisarek.
Komisarek has never scored more than four goals in a season and has never scored a power play marker in his career. Simply put, Komisarek is not that type of player, so if Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson are looking for additional offense, Komisarek may be the odd man out.
Of course there is the small matter of Komisarek’s lofty $4.5 million cap hit and his No Movement Clause/Modified No Trade Clause (player supplies a trading list that can be modified each June 15), but that didn’t stop Burke and Company from demoting Jeff Finger to the Marlies last season and, by all accounts, should Komisarek fail to impress at camp, he too may find himself playing out the season with the Marlies.
Without question, given his pedigree and heafty salary Komisarek will be afforded every opportunity to make the Maple Leafs roster this season. Whether or not he keeps that roster spot will likely be in question for quite some time, at least until Komisarek proves to be the reliable/game changing defenseman he was as a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Look for Komisarek to make the roster out of camp with Gardiner representing the seventh man. Should Komisarek suffer an injury or fail to impress Gardiner (who will likely start the season with the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate—The Toronto Marlies) will be thrust into game action and may never look back.
Hey Komi—you are on notice, there is no time to waste, your time to shine is now…
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***This article appeared on Foxsports.com on Sunday September, 18th.
Until next time,