If you remember a few seasons back, bruising defenseman Mike Komisarek was one of Brian Burke’s prized acquisitions in his inaugural offseason at the helm of the Leafs. Signed to a monster deal worth $22.5 million over five seasons, Komisarek has quickly become one of the most overpaid defensemen in the league instead of a defensively solid, heavy-hitting headhunter patrolling the blueline and keeping the rest of the Leafs from “having to worry about picking their teeth out of the glass,” as Burke so aptly put it that summer.
This season has seen Komi relegated to the 5th spot on the depth chart, behind youngsters Luke Schenn, Keith Aulie and Carl Gunnarsson. It’s hard to figure out exactly what he’s actually contributed, aside from alot of giveaways (47) and penalty minutes – despite averaging under 14 minutes of ice time a night, he’s racked up 79 penalty minutes. His -9 rating ranks him near the bottom of the barrel compared to other NHL defensemen, he doesn’t score and contributes very little offensively (1 goal, 10 points), and it’s not like this season is any different from his performance last year (4 points, -9 in 34 games played).
About the only thing that can be said in his defense is that he does play the body, although sometimes at expense of sacrificing proper defensive coverage. His 136 hits rank behind Schenn and Dion Phaneuf in that department. He also does a decent job of blocking offensive chances, as only Schenn (yes, the kid is an absolute beast, more on that next week) and Gunnarsson have more blocked shots this season.
Still, regardless of his physical prowess and willingness to give up the body, both of which are valuable traits, his salary far outweighs both his playing time and, apparently his abilities. The lack of offensive production is not an issue – his best season was a 19-point effort in Montreal back in ’06-07. The fact that he can’t seem to function at a higher-than-peewee level in his own end is the problem. Just off the top of my head – and I’m sure any Leaf fan who watches all the games can as well – I can come up with any number of giveaways, dumb penalties or just plain bad plays that led either to goals against or significant scoring chances.
If the circumstances were any different, Komisarek would have been long gone by now, but there aren’t gonna be many takers for a $4.5 million cap hit to sit on their 3rd d-pairing as a defensive zone liability. Unless Burke is somehow able to wave his magic wand and hypnotize another NHL GM into taking on Komi and his monstrous contract, there’s almost no chance of him leaving town.
I’ll be honest, since the trades of Francois Beauchemin and Tomas Kaberle, I expected Komisarek to play more, but clearly that hasn’t happened, especially with Aulie looking more and more like blueline stud every game, and Gunnarsson coming along nicely. That leaves Komisarek in a very difficult position. If the Leafs were strapped for cash, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him buried in the AHL, ala Sheldon Souray or Jeff Finger. However, Burke has always tried to safeguard his reputation as a friend to his players, and banishing Komi to the minors would do nothing to help his career, or the Leafs for that matter.
Assuming that Luke Schenn is re-signed in the offseason, and Brett Lebda is rightfully demoted to the Marlies, the Leafs’ blueline next season will probably closely resemble the one that is playing right now. Phaneuf-Aulie, Schenn-Gunnarsson, Komisarek-Lashoff/Blacker/Holzer/Gardiner (who would have to have a monster preseason to crack the lineup, I think), with a combined salary approaching $20 million, depending on what Gunnarsson and Schenn are re-signed for.
If this discussion has come off a bit jumbled, it’s because my opinion on Komisarek is far from well-defined. There’s no defense for his salary, but at this point, there’s nothing that can be done about that. If he were somehow able to re-discover his game and begin playing solid hockey again, he could be a valuable asset. At 6’4, 243 lbs, he’s certainly a physical force to be reckoned with, but all that force is useless when coupled with his apparent lack of hockey sense. The question is, will he regain that hockey sense, or are the Leafs going to be stuck with the same idiotic play we’ve seen from him for the last two seasons?