It’s a reciprocal hockey formula that can’t be denied: Reputation doesn’t necessarily equal contribution.
Two teams that should be acutely aware of that double-edged truth this year are the Toronto Maple Leafs and Team USA.
The Leafs, for certain, will have Mike Komisarek on the back end. Team USA, when it hits the ice in February for the Winter Olympics, is also a good bet to have the bruiser from Long Island on its blueline.
There are plenty of reasons for any team to want Komisarek wearing its colors, starting with his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame and the willingness he displays to impose that package on opposing players.
Beyond that, Komisarek’s demeanor is that of a grinning, good guy who no doubt spreads the right kind of vibes throughout a dressing room.
In short, I’d take him on my squad any day of the week.
By the same token, fans of stars, stripes and Leafs should be aware that Komisarek’s camera- and highlight-friendly nature has distorted the reality of his actual contribution.
Just as Dion Phaneuf’s bombs from the point and bone-crushing hits mask defensive deficiencies, Komisarek’s willingness to tear after opponents and be the face of his team after a win or a loss belie the fact he’s not exactly from the Rod Langway school of defensive proficiency.
Komisarek is not airtight in his own zone, makes no offensive contribution to speak of and, in fact, is coming off a sub-par season in which he was slowed by injury.
So why did Toronto GM Brian Burke jump at the chance to ink him to a five-year deal worth $4.5 million annually? Because, don’t forget, we’re talking about contributions relative to reputation here.
Phaneuf is a great defenseman with untapped upside – he’s just not the all-around stud defender people who only see his game in five-second snippets think he is.
Ditto for Komisarek. No doubt he can be a contributing member to a good hockey team, but those who think the Leafs landed their Robyn Regehr – who, incidentally, makes about $500,000 less per year than Komisarek – have swallowed too much blue and white Kool-Aid.
Look at it this way. The Habs drafted Komisarek seventh overall in 2001. The Leafs nabbed Luke Schenn only two slots earlier seven years later. If, when Schenn is 27 years old as Komisarek is now, he’s not bringing much more to the table than his new teammate does, there will be an awful lot of talk about who else Toronto could have taken with that pick.
As mentioned, the correlation between reputation and contribution goes both ways. Leaf fans know Ian White brings way more to the table than he’s given credit for league-wide, just as Jackets backers can toot the horn of Fedor Tyutin and Devils supporters appreciate what Johnny Oduya can do for you.
Hard-rock defensemen don’t have to put up big points to be effective, but they do need to keep things calm in their own zone and cultivate an ability to get, settle and move the puck up ice efficiently.
Top-tier defensive play involves a lot of subtle things like always being in the right spot, angling people to unworkable ice and whacking pucks away from dangerous sticks.
Leaf fans could be disappointed to discover Komisarek’s game can often be comprised of more noise than nuance.
Ryan Dixon 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 will appear regularly in the off-season and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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