A closer look at Mike Komisarek

There really isn't much to say about the two signings the Hurricanes made yesterday. They managed to avoid the madness of July 5th and were able to fill out two NHL roster spots for a combined $1.5 mil. by signing Anton Khudobin and Mike Komisarek. With the team being short on cap space, low-risk, one-year deals are not a bad idea and Jim Rutherford was able to address a need by getting both players. Khudobin fills a more crucial need as the back-up goaltender but Komisarek is more of a wild card.

The Hurricanes were not going to acquire a top-four defenseman this summer through free agency and needed defensive depth, so this is where Komisarek can step in. For $700k, he can be a 6th or 7th defenseman and play a big role on the penalty kill if he is up to it. He is also the type of defenseman the Hurricanes have wanted to add for years since he adds size to their blue-line and is considered a tough, physical player. That was something the team didn't have much of last season and adding Komisarek helps them in this department. So in the end, signing him for $700k looks like a decent gamble and there isn't much lost if he doesn't work out. 

However, something I can't help but overlook is that Komisarek has posted ugly numbers over his career and he was just bought out by one of the worst defensive clubs in the NHL. The big contract he signed in Toronto probably skewed the perception of him, but his numbers are still pretty bad regardless. He has also struggled to stay in Toronto's lineup the last two years and finished last season in the AHL. Apparently he asked to be sent down so that he could play regularly, but if he wasn't getting ice time over the likes of Korbinian Holzer, Mike Kotska and Mark Fraser then that isn't a good sign. If he's barely an NHL defenseman then 

Changing teams and going to a different market can do wonders for some players, so maybe a fresh start is what Komisarek needs to turn things around. Is there a chance of this happening in Carolina? He was an "All-Star" caliber defenseman one year before signing that contract with Toronto, so there is potential upside but how much does that mean now? Was Komisarek only bad relative to his contract in Toronto or was he just awful in general? More importantly, is he an upgrade over anything the Hurricanes had on defense last year? After the jump, we'll explore all of these questions and talk about Komisarek can bring to the Hurricanes.

To answer the question of whether ot not Komisarek was awful or just bad relative to his contract, his career numbers suggest that he was both. After a couple years of playing the tough minutes in Montreal, Komisarek got a five year contract from Brian Burke and was being paid to be a top-four shutdown defenseman. Unfortunately for the Burke and the Leafs, Komisarek wasn't exactly a top shutdown defenseman in Montreal and he performed way below that level after going to a worse team.

Season GP TOI/60 QoC Rk Corsi Rel. Corsi% OZ%
2007-08 75 16.73  1/9 -5.4 0.452 41.1
2008-09 66 16.34  2/9 -1.1 0.472 39.8
2009-10 34 16.92  4/8 4.6 0.552 53.4
2010-11 75 11.89  5/6 -6.6 0.458 41.6
2011-12 45 14.68  3/8 -6.5 0.465 42
2012-13 4 12.94 N/A -15.1 0.38 45.7

Komisarek's numbers in Montreal were not awful considering he was doing most of the heavy-lifting there, but they weren't great either. Not enough for him to command a $4.5 mil. cap hit for five years. The Leafs wanted to get bigger and meaner, though so Burke made the push to sign and to say he was disappointing would be an understatement. Komisarek never played tough minutes in Toronto and in three out of his four years there, he was pretty awful at controlling territorial play. Whether he was playing secondary minutes on restricted on the third pairing, the Leafs could not keep the puck out of their own end when Komisarek was on the ice and that doesn't bode well for his future.

He had to battle a lot of injuries so that probably affected his play, but 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. That might rule him out for anything above the third pairing, but an interesting observation in the table above are his numbers from 2009-10, which was his first year with the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

That was the only time in the last five seasons where Komisarek was effective at controlling puck-possession and he was doing that while playing top-four minutes. He wasn't getting the toughs (Phaneuf, Beauchemin & Gunnarsson got those minutes) but he certainly wasn't being sheltered either. His numbers in Montreal also were not terrible either when taking his assignments into account. So what happened to Komisarek over the last three years? He was only in his late 20's during this time so I'm not convinced that his play could decline this much over the course of the year. It's possible that injuries took a toll on his body, but I don't remember him having any type of injury that could linger for three years.

A more plausible explanation for Komisarek's decline is that he was being carried by a stronger defense partner during his time in Montreal and his first year in Toronto. When you look at some of his defense partners over his career, this could very well be the case. For much of his time in Montreal, he was paired with Andrei Markov and while the two didn't set the world on fire, they performed admirably in a tough-minute role. During his first year in Toronto, he was paired with Tomas Kaberle and these two were very successful at driving the play in top-four minutes. However, Komisarek struggled mightily over the rest of his career in Toronto and couldn't seem to find synergy with any other defense partner. 

The scary thing about Komisarek's performance over the years is that nearly all of his defense partners did better when they were paired with someone else, at least in terms of being able to control puck-possession. His WOWY report does a good job of illustrating this.

Tomas Kaberle, Francois Beauchemin and John-Michael Liles were the only ones who saw their play elevated when they were paired with Komisarek. To make things worse, the only time Komisarek was able to control over 50% of the 5v5 shot attempts that he was on the ice for were when he was playing with Kaberle & Beauchemin. That's two out of 13 sampled defense partners. Komisarek was being asked to do too much in Montreal, but it doesn't take away from the fact that he dragged down all of his defense partners there. 

This wasn't so much the case in Toronto even though he had some ugly numbers with a few players there. Ron Wilson and Randy Carlyle never trusted Komisarek to play the tough mintues, so his numbers ended up being a little better and he seemed to really excel when he playing with someone who could move the puck. Kaberle, Beauchemin and Liles are all good at that and Komisarek had very solid results when playing with them.

Carolina might want to follow a similar method if they want Komisarek to have any success next season. It's doubtful that he plays beyond the third pairing, but Carolina has some defensemen who he might be able to mesh with even if he is used in a limited role. He could have some success with someone like Jay Harrison or Brett Bellemore on the third pairing against other team's depth lines. That seems to be what he is more suited for now and his flaws won't hurt the team as much then.

Komisarek isn't going to be asked to do much and will probably start the year in a limited role, so as long as he doesn't get destroyed and plays well on the PK, this should end up being a good move for the Canes. It's been over three years since Komisarek has been able to play those minutes, though and he spent almost all of last season in the AHL. As much as I want to be optimistic about Komisarek, it's been awhile since he has been a good defenseman and his reputation is the only thing that makes him a more attractable option than Bellemore at this point.

That being said, he has a lot of upside and at $700k, the Hurricanes aren't risking much by bringing him aboard. If it works out, then it's a good bargain deal for the Canes if it doesn't, nothing ventured.

Stats taken from Behind the Net & Hockey Analysis