Friday, August 21, 2009

Mike Who?

The Forgettable Fifth Defender

Just before free agency opened I had set up my RSS feeds to aliment me with news on all the key free agents, both ours and those to be targeted as well. Call it laziness or morbid curiosity, but I've been keeping tabs on the same guys ever since. All Koivu news is served to me daily, same for Kovalev. All this despite not knowing the least about our actual players without some manual searching.

This past month has been a very quite one on many fronts and even the Koivu, Kovalev and Tanguay newsfeeds have started to taper off. But one feed keeps churning out the stories, albeit most unreadable. That feed is good old Mike Komisrek's, our former future captain, untradeable asset and defensive lynchpin – and now a traitor and instant enemy, of course.

As I said most of the stories are about the Leafs, and there's only so much a Canadiens fan can delve into the intricacies of Brian Burke's master "plan". But every now and again there's an article that pops out to file in the very worthwhile box. This week has seen a few on the big oaf.

Olympic camp

The first wave of interesting articles all dealt with the Toronto love triangle of Brian Burke, Ron Wilson and Mike Komisarek transposing their adoration on the stars and stripes. Mike, of course, was one of the invitees to the orientation camp (good article on that here) and had a swell time in Illinois. So swell, in fact, that it led the "ever-reliable" Steve Simmons to extrapolate from two comments that Mike Komisarek is in no danger of missing the Olympic cut:
Brian Burke admitted yesterday that more than two-thirds of the team has basically been selected and another Team USA source was clear that Komisarek would be on that list of sure things.

This interested me greatly because after watching Komisarek in Montreal, there were times where one would question his ability to avoid the NHL cut, let alone play for the elite of his country. At first I thought of nepotism, because after all it is Brian Burke. But then I had a look down the American options and thought again – the team doesn't look good. It can't be nice to look ahead to Komisarek and Scuderi marking Ovechkin, Malkin and Kovalchuk or the Canadian equivalent.

From this then two logical steps:

1) Mock the Americans – I quickly decided I couldn't do better than DGB's hilarious expedition

2) Start fretting about Timmins' propensity to take Americans over anyone else – when Scuderi or Komisarek clone is the pinnacle of likely achievement, you can stop ruing the loss of McDonagh

Komisarek on the Leafs

As the flood of articles on Komisarek from July onwards attests to, Leafs fans and writers have a lot to say about Mike. Some of what is being said is neutral, even, dare I say, realistic; but there's a big enough chunk of delusional prose to warrant my nausea.

That's why I was thrilled this morning when an article from The Hockey News: Komisarek More Common Than You Think found its way into my inbox.

This article is probably the article I wanted to write, but never did. It's certainly an idea that's been on the backburner for ages. I recommend you read it either to mash up the sour grapes in your gullet or just to enter into the spirit of mocking the newest of Leafs (I enjoy both). The spirit of the article I would have written can be found in this wonderful THN quote:
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.

I couldn't agree more, nor could I have put it more succinctly. From September 2007 to April 2009, Mike Komisarek went from hopeful to emerging star to dependable to a man seemingly interested only his stats.

It all leads then to the interesting question, one that has nothing to do with how disappointed or pleased his new favourite fans will be: will we miss Mike Komisarek on the Canadiens?

I think I alluded to my answer in the title. Again, I draw a quote from a more inspired author:
Leaf fans could be disappointed to discover Komisarek’s game can often be comprised of more noise than nuance.

Fans of the Habs who hung around for April will know that by that time, will know this feeling well. By that time, Mike was a fifth choice defenceman playing a bigger role than we'd have liked him to. Never close to Markov or even Hamrlik in ability, he also made himself second choice to Gorges and Schneider and even Bouillon at times. His contributions all seemed to be recorded on the appendix stats sheet, as opposed to the win column.

Some will say that his descent in the depth chart was due to playing with injury. Some will say he was a hero for playing hurt. Maybe partly, but that theory dismisses the beginning of the season where he was in fact even less effective than he was when he was supposedly hampered by a shoulder/hand/upper body injury. It also ignores the fact his best stretch was actually post-injury, not pre.

Before his injury, Komisarek was already trailing Markov, Hamrlik, Gorges and Bouillon in the domes department – a deficit he would never recover from. His sorry season, injury or not left him with 8 domes (when most nights the second D spot was up for grabs by anyone who didn't shoot the puck over the glass or into their own net) and no game pucks. I remember several conversations about our lucky escapes, our "play with fire" style defence and Mike Komisarek's slide into 2004 form. Call us on bias if you want, but Komisarek was also a non-entity for the three-star selectors (despite his blocked shot stats) with a single third star to his name all season. The season before he had 26 domes to go with 2 second and 8 third star selections.

Last season he was very near the league in giveaways with 89, but unlike those who surpassed him (Markov, Ovechkin, Derek Roy, Souray, Green and Richards) who are victims of attempted breakout passes and creative plays gone wrong, he managed to get up there without ever trying to do more than pass squarely to Markov. His assist to giveaway ratio is the only thing more embarrassing than his giveaway to takeaway ratio. Add to that the fact he makes Markov a worse defender and attacking threat and the case builds.

So will we miss him? Well not in in 2008-09 form, we won't. Even at the pinnacle of his form (2007-08) Mike left us wanting in the playoffs as teams that saw our lineup on consecutive nights targeted the Komi side of the first defensive pairing with devastating effect. And given the likelihood that he's probably more the average of 2007-08 and 2008-09 than one extreme, I think Gainey's probably replaced him with Paul Mara at a fraction of the price.

Thank goodness for Google Reader, else I might not have got that off my chest.

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