Friday, July 11, 2008

Habs Review 2007-08:

Mike Komisarek

[Apologies for the miscue with Komi's review. I was a little too excitable it seemed this morning and in changing the publishing order got ahead of our plan – Topham]

The numbers

75 GP: 4 G, 13 A, 17 Pts, 101 PIM, +9, 75 Shots

Career best year – 2006-07
82 GP: 4 G, 15 A, 19 Pts, 96 PIM, +7, 78 Shots

2007-08 playoffs
12 GP: 1 G, 2 A, 3 Pts, 18 PIM, +3, 18 Shots

Career best playoffs
This season

Plays of the game: 2

Game pucks: 1

Domes: 30

3 Star selections: 3 Second, 8 Third

The story

Where he started the season
Komisarek came into this season with greater expectations on his shoulders than ever. Though his contract was modest, it was expected that Mike would step into the number two defenceman role on a permanent basis. The year before, Mike had been blooming, but was still maturing on some nights. If progress was to be made, and that was the hope from fans if not the expectation from the pundits, a lot would come down to players like Mike (in that critical mid-20s age group) going from young prospects to leaders on the team. The loss of Souray and subsequent replacement with Hamrlik meant that Komi would continue to develop beside Andrei Markov.

Over the summer we had heard about Komisarek's training regimen, including yoga and strength training, to go with mental strength exercises. Although, many athletes go through this kind of psych fluff, you got the idea that it had really changed Komisarek's approach. For me, Mike's quote prior to the season about his career goals was very telling. He stated without flinching that he would like to become the best defenceman in the NHL. No transient numbers, no category-leading BS, better than Lidstrom, better than Phaneuf, better than Markov. Difficult goal, but in striving for this, I was certain we'd be happy even if he ultimatley came up short.

The season
In his way, Mike started the season quietly and reliably. While others came out with flying starts (Higgins, Kovalev), Mike paced himself. And in doing so, he went a bit unnoticed. It was about midway through the season in publishing a list of the biggest surprises of the year, that I started to fully appreciate the contributions that Mike was making to the Canadiens success. He had some very spectacular moments, to be sure: the OT goal against Toronto, some of the most impressive hits in all the NHL and shot-blocking the likes of which we hadn't seen since the days of Carbonneau; but, his main contribution was steadiness. He had improved his puck retrieval and his first pass. He had improved his understanding with Markov and with the goalies. he was starting to be reliable and predictably proficient on nearly a nightly basis. Particularly in the first 60 games, he and Markov provided the foundation and the springboard for great breakouts and offensive movements. And, though he scored less points himself, it was by providing the solid foundation for 20+ minutes a game that the Canadiens were able to become the highest scoring team in the NHL.

Aside from his play, Mike also stepped into the void left by Sheldon Souray as a voice for the English-speaking media. Komisarek provided many a calming take for the TV cameras after both wins and losses as he grew into one of the primary leaders of the team. In fact, though Higgins wears the A on his shirt, I would guess that Komisarek's voice, when he speaks, carries greater weight than Chris' in the dressing room.

Highlights: Boy, he's come a long way from the guy who first stepped on the ice for the Canadiens. One to relish

Komisarek by the numbers:

Lions' links on Komisarek:
A Sort Of Homecoming: New York Islanders Preview

Grade: A-
For all the reasons we mentioned above and more, Komisarek deserves a top grade for the season he had. The room for improvement he did have was closed gradually over this season. Where he used to look for the biggest hits, now, he seems to restrain himself more and make the hit if it creates an advantage for the team. Similarly for penalties, it seemed that over the season, his tendency to retaliate come what may was tempered by his gains in maturity. An A-, not an A is a reflection of the fact he did use this season to improve and wasn't the player he is now on October 6th. What's more, he, like many of the younger Canadiens, was unable to really elevate his play in any way when the going got tough in the playoffs. Though it was admirable that he came back from injury to play, I fell that some of his lacklustre shifts could not be blamed solely on hips, but also reflected some of those old tendencies of retaliation and the big hit while being baited, particularly by Milan Lucic.

Where we'd have him next season
Back at Markov's side, where else? One constantly hears about defence winning championships, franchise players, untouchable prospects – all these apply to Mike Komisarek and Andrei Markov when together. Perhaps as valuable as the two of them individually is the experience and understanding they have built up over many games now, playing together. Komisarek makes Markov into a Norris trophy candidate, while Markov may one day soon see that Mike garners some votes of his own. As far as partnerships go, there aren't many better in the NHL – and is one the Canadiens must hold onto and exploit. I see Komi growing even more this season, and becoming one of the very top defensive defencemen in the league. His competitive nature will ensure that he learns from those mistakes in the playoffs and from his successes in the season. Watch out league.

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