TORONTO – Leo Komarov’s time in Toronto seems to be coming to an end.
The 25-year-old winger has decided that after playing 11 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ American Hockey League affiliate, Toronto Marlies, it’s time to head back overseas and play in the KHL.
“It’s one day at a time and I don’t know how long this will take to be worked out, but I thought it was important for our organization to be upfront about it,” said Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins. “There are some things in motion, a lot of hurdles to get over as of yet so Leo’s status with our team stays the same until I’m let known otherwise.”
Komarov was originally drafted by the Leafs in 2006 and played three seasons of pro in Finland and three more in Russia before coming to North America this summer to pursue his goal of playing in the NHL.
However, when the NHL locked out its players on September 15th his only remaining option in North American was with the Marlies.
“If there was no lockout this would not be going on at all,” said Eakins. “This was a provision that was built into his contract. This kid’s a good prospect, worked hard to get a shot at the NHL and that’s his end game. This is about playing in the NHL, that’s what he wants to do.”
At this point in time, the Finnish product wants to head back and will likely play for Dynamo Moscow, the club he won a KHL championship with last season, but he doesn’t want to end his dream of playing in the NHL, which is why he was practising on Thursday morning with the Marlies.
Before anything is finalized, Komarov wants to be assured that when the NHL returns, he can too.
“This is not a done deal,” Eakins said. “There are a lot of hurdles to go through. I think we have to make sure he can come back before this happens. One of the big things is, I think, Leo wants to make sure if he leaves he can come back if the lockout ends.”
Despite being an impactful player for Eakins’ club, the coach understands the situation and hopes that Komarov’s return to the KHL can benefit everyone.
“Would I like him to stay, absolutely, but these are decisions that are hard for a player and his family and I respect those decisions,” said Eakins. “(But) we have a massive group of forwards so for him to go back he can continue his development and it opens up a hole in our line up for someone else to play.”
Komarov is tied with Jake Gardiner in scoring. The two lead the Marlies with five goals apiece. Komarov scored four in his last three outings.