Projecting Mike Komisarek's Role with Carolina Hurricanes' Defense in 2013-14

Mark Jones@@CanesReportSenior Analyst ISeptember 18, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 31:  Mike Komisarek #8 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins on January 31, 2012 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Former NHL All-Star defenseman Mike Komisarek signed in July to a chorus of optimism, praise and renewed hope for the Carolina Hurricanes' defense.

This week, he joins fellow defensive newcomers Andrej Sekera and Ron Hainsey as Carolina's revamped back end begins its six-game preseason campaign.

On the surface, Komisarek looks like just the kind of rearguard the 'Canes have long been searching for—a big, sturdy (6'4", 243 lbs) blueliner with 548 games of NHL experience (including 29 in the postseason) and an unbreakable conservative mindset.

The 31-year-old's public statements have also fed rapidly increasing expectations. Per Luke DeCock of the News & Observer:

I want to play for a lot longer than this, and the driving force is to have a chance to play in the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup over the next five or 10 years.

[Carolina] was really the only team I thought was a perfect fit before the whole free-agency process started. At the end of the day, I didn’t want to hold out for the best contract. I wanted to go somewhere where I could regain my confidence and get back to my old self.

Komisarek echoed that refreshed aura to Kevin McGran of the the Toronto Star, telling him, "I feel like I’m going to my first training camp. A great fresh start for myself. A new beginning.”

The New York native has never been much of an offensive producer—he's registered double-digit points in just four of his eight full NHL seasons—but he's averaged more than two hits per game since autumn 2008.

That perennial physical tendency, along with his impressive blocked-shot tallies, made him an All-Star with Montreal in 2009 (when he racked up a whopping 191 hits in 66 appearances) and rewarded him with a five-year, $22.5 million contract in Toronto the following summer.

Four years later, he's beginning a mere $700,000 deal in Raleigh, having played just 49 NHL games over the last two seasons combined thanks to a barrage of injuries and a growing legacy of unreliability.

That undeniable fact has been largely lost in the hoopla surrounding Komisarek's arrival. 

The Toronto hockey fanbase did not turn on him solely because of the Leafs' defensive struggles and high media scrutiny. It turned on him because of an unfailing parade of skating clumsiness, puck-moving mistakes and overall sluggishness in all three zones.

Per Corey Sznajder of Shutdown Line:

Komisarek doesn't exactly matchup well against more skilled forwards. Yes, he is big and can deliver punishing hits, but skating has never been his best asset and teams with a lot of speed can make him look silly. He can also be quite an adventure with the puck and commit bad turnover when forced to lead a breakout.

Last September, Cam Charron of Leafs Nation posted a brutal scene-by-scene breakdown of a Penguins power-play zone entry against Toronto the previous season. Komisarek (then wearing No. 8) is steadily sucked into the middle of the ice, allowing Pittsburgh to create an isolated two-on-one on the right side while Komisarek pirouettes in no-man's land.

Scenes like that were horrendously common during Komisarek's time with the Maple Leafs, especially in difficult, testing situations like the penalty kill.

Coaches Ron Wilson and Randy Carlyle, as a result, demoted Komisarek to healthy-scratch status on many nights over the past two years—to the point that he requested being sent down to the AHL just to receive steadier playing time this past spring.

The former seventh overall draft pick has also displayed a troubling trend over his career that may derail his hopes of succeeding on Carolina's third pairing before the regular season even begins.

In the four seasons (2006-07 to 2009-10) in which Komisarek averaged 19 or more minutes per game, he posted a plus-seven rating. In the four seasons (excluding his four-game 2013 campaign) in which he averaged fewer than 17 minutes, he recorded a minus-18 mark.

Komisarek is simply much worse when occupying a lesser role.

And, for a final point of caution, consider this Oct. 2011 Komisarek quote from the London Free Press:

You are quickly reminded in this city of your past faults and past mistakes and sometimes that stuff can weigh you down.

But I see this year as an opportunity to get back that feeling of when you are a kid. I can't wait to get down here and play games.

It sounds uncannily familiar.

Yes, Komisarek clearly suffered from the pressure of the market and his contract.

Granted, Kirk Muller's coaching style may work miles better with his playing style.

But No. 5's future with the Hurricanes may not be nearly as pretty as many expect it to be.

Mark Jones has been an Carolina Hurricanes featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.


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