Keep Those #8 Blue and White Sweaters
For some reason, there is always a player on the Toronto Maple Leafs that suddenly becomes my guy. The player that I find myself defending to the fan base. I don't necessarily like the player, or think that the player is good, but somehow I always find myself pleading his case. The evolution of my guys has gone as follows: Todd Warriner to Aki Berg to Robert Reichel to Nik Antropov to Brian McCabe to Nik Antropov (again) and finally to Mike Komisarek. For the past two seasons, Komisarek has been the bane to Leafs fans existence. Every time he is on the ice many supporters cringe and expect the worst. Watching Komisarek for a season and a half (he missed half of 09-10 with a shoulder injury) it seems that when he is on the ice he is cringing and expecting the worst along with the fans.
Brian Burke's First Major Addition
On July 1, 2009 the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Mike Komisarek to 5 year contract for $22.5 million dollars ($4.5 cap hit). Despite the fact that Burke was hired in November to run the Leafs it took him until July to make his first major addition (with all due respect to Brad May, Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak). Komisarek was signed to usher in a new era of Leaf hockey. He was viewed as the antitode to the dreaded "Blue and White disease".
A strong leader and dependable character guy, Komisarek would be a mentor for a young Luke Schenn, a player that would clear the front of the net and strike fear into opposing teams. The move was received poorly by experts. Many pundits agreed that Komisarek was a great fit for Burke's truculent Leafs, but the contract was deemed to be too expensive. Komisarek (despite his breakaway goal in this clip) had very limited offensive abilites and to allot $4.5 million in cap space to a limited defender raised some eyebrows. It should be noted that it was reported that the Montreal Canadiens offered their former player $20 million for five seasons, and that the New York Islanders offered the same if not more money than Burke did. Looking back it seems that people were right. Komisarek has had two terrible seasons with the Leafs and despite what Leaf fans hope, he seems to be stuck here for at least another three years.
Injuries and Confidence
In 2009-2010 Komnisarek was limited to only 34 games due to a significant shoulder injury suffered at the hands of Milan Lucic. In the 34 games that he did play, Komisarek was nothing special. Burke and Ron Wilson (Pierre Maguire too for some reason) claimed that the sturggles of Komisarek were due to the fact that he was trying too hard to win over the fanbase and his new teammates. A player whose strengths were playing a physcial game and being quiet defensively was struggling to earn his big contract. However Leaf fans were assured that with a healthy shoulder Komisarek would prove his true worth the following season.
In 2010-2011 Komisarek managed to stay healthy and play 75 games for the Leafs. However his second season with the Leafs was just as bad, if not worse, than the first one. The new excuse given was that Komisarek lost his mojo, so to speak. Apparently a lack of confidence led to Komisarek having a terrible season with the Leafs to the point that when he wasn't a healthy scratch his minutes dipped to just over 13 minutes a night.
The Next Three Seasons
With the acquisitions of John Michael Liles and Cody Franson, along with the emergence of Carl Gunnarsson, rumours swirled this summer that Komisarek was on the verge of being traded. Now I may be proven wrong, but I highly doubt that a team will trade for a defensive defenseman who is coming off of two terrible seasons, playing on one of the worst defensive teams in the league, and pay him $4.5 million for the next three seasons. The truth of the matter is that Komisarek will begin the season on the bottom pairing of the Leafs' defense. Leaf coaches will try him on the penalty killing unit. Barring an injury don't expect Komisarek to play more than 15 minutes a night for the first quarter of the season.
If Komisarek can somehow return to form (keep in mind he is only 29 years of age and has proven to be an average to above average defenseman), then the Leafs' playoff push will be strengthened. A healthy and in form Komisarek can solidify the Leafs defense and penalty killing, thus becoming a major contributor to Burke's Leafs. Another bonus is that an in-form Komisarek becomes appealing to a desperate team looking for blueline help at the trade deadline.
One thing that will certainly not happen is Komisarek being buried in the minors. Firstly, Burke signed him to major deal and he will not embarass the player, or the player's agent, by sending him to the minors. Although Komisarek is struggling the effort is evident. Burke has to think about keeping a good relationship with agents in order to lure future players to Toronto. Most importantly though, Komisarek has a no movement clause in his contract, so barring his consent he will not be suiting up for the Marlies.
Stating the obvious the upcoming season is crucial. If Komisarek can find his game he will become a significant contributor to an emerging Leaf team. If he struggles again then he will become an expert on which NHL arena serves the best popcorn.
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