When the Maple Leafs signed defenseman Mike Komisarek to a five-year 22.5-million contract in July 2009, it was seen as one of GM Brian Burke’s initial steps towards creating a rough-and-tumble team with skill, much like his Anaheim squad that won the Stanley Cup in 2007.
During Komisarek’s four-plus seasons in Montreal, he evolved into exactly the kind of stay-at-home, hard-hitting blueliner Burke – and any team, really – loves to employ as a No. 2 or 3 guy. At 6-foot-4 and 243 pounds, ‘Komo’ is a hulk of a man who enjoys nothing more than doling out punishing checks to unsuspecting – or suspecting – opposition forwards. He’s also been a leader wherever he’s gone, billed as a future captain of both the Habs and the Leafs.
But it all came off the rails somewhat last year. Pointless through the first 16 games of the season and a minus-9, Komisarek went down with a quadriceps injury, missed eight games, came back for 18 more, then went down for good with a shoulder ailment Jan. 2. In all, 34 games, four points and a minus-9; although he did play his hard-hitting style, still finishing No. 8 in hits among Leafs with 85.
Many will tell you Komisarek hasn’t been the same since he first injured his shoulder during a fight early in the 2008-09 season with Boston’s Milan Lucic. The troubling thing is that this training camp and pre-season Komisarek has played like a wild man, taking bad penalties and fighting just about everyone who gets in his face – opponent or teammate.
Making up for lost time? Probably. Dion Phaneuf is now the captain, but Toronto coach Ron Wilson said Komisarek is trying to prove to everyone he’s worth the money he’s being paid while he amends for what happened last year, personally and team-wise.
“(Wilson) told me today to just keep it simple and try not to get a Gordie Howe hat trick in the first shift,” Komisarek, 28, said after Wednesday’s Leafs-Senators tilt.
Showing gumption and team spirit are great, but dropping the gloves with the likes of Jay Rosehill (teammate) in camp and Cody Bass (opponent) after the final whistle Wednesday – a contest in which Komisarek came away with nine penalty minutes – is ludicrous for a guy trying to work his way back into the top-four rotation. As the kids would say (or maybe would have years ago): “You gotta check yourself before you wreck yourself.”
“I still want him to calm down a little bit and not try to do too much,” he said Wednesday night, after reminding reporters it’s been nearly 10 months since Komisarek has played a game.
Keeping it simple will be the key for Komisarek. He has the chance to be the No. 1 shutdown guy on his team, but he needs to calm down and play like a guy who hasn’t missed 64 games the past two seasons. He needs to do the simple things: stay in front of forwards, make intelligent outlet passes and not go headhunting.
And on a team with Rosehills and Colton Orrs – not to mention a number of other tough hombres – don’t fight. How are you going to round your game into form spending five-plus minutes in the box every night? The Leafs will need Komisarek to be at his best all season if they hope to not get off to another horrendous start and compete for a playoff spot come March and April.
Fisticuffs at this point in the year are hurting his game, potentially his body, and worse, his team.
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