RALEIGH — Free-agent defenseman Mike Komisarek had no sooner signed a one-year deal Friday with the Carolina Hurricanes than he was on the phone with Canes coach Kirk Muller.
He was really excited, Muller said. I think hes really looking forward to getting down to Raleigh, in our market, and being able to just play hockey. Just go and play and not worry about anything else.
Komisarek was one of two players acquired Friday by the Hurricanes as NHL free agency began. Carolina also signed former Boston Bruins backup goaltender Anton Khudobin to a one-year, $800,000 contract.
Komisarek, 31, came at lower price $700,000. Thats a far cry from the five-year, $22.5 million free-agent deal he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in July 2009.
The Montreal Canadiens selected Komisarek in the first round in 2001 and by 2009, he had become an elite defenseman for them. Muller, then an assistant coach in Montreal, watched the 6-4, 235-pounder develop into a rugged shutdown type.
He loves to compete, Muller said. He always played with great energy. He was always great in the (locker) room.
But the move to Toronto proved nightmarish for Komisarek, a native of West Islip, N.Y. Selected for the 2009 NHL All-Star Game and chosen to play for the U.S. Olympic team in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, he injured a shoulder in a game against Calgary in early January 2010.
Komisarek had season-ending surgery and missed the Olympics. His career has never been quite the same and he fell out of favor in Toronto, first under former Leafs coach Ron Wilson and then Randy Carlyle, and had to deal with intense media scrutiny.
Komisarek played just four games for Carlyle this past season. He was placed on waivers in March and then assigned to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. The Leafs elected to use a compliance buyout on him this week and will pay him $1.667 million each of the next two years.
You sign a big contract, you come in there as a hot free agent and you want to change the world, Komisarek said. You cant do that in a day, a week, a month. Its a process. I didnt get off on the right foot and never recovered from there. It just wasnt working out.
With that being said, you dont complain, you dont whine. ... It just didnt work out. Right now Im excited for the opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong and having that fresh start.
Rutherford said Komisareks past injuries are no longer an issue. Komisarek noted he had been training in Toronto in the offseason.
My body hasnt felt this good in years, he said. I feel strong.
Rutherford said Komisarek likely would play with Jay Harrison as the Canes fifth and sixth defensemen, which Rutherford said would give him a better chance to succeed.
Khudobin, 27, was brought in to be Cam Wards backup after putting up impressive numbers 9-4-1 record, 2.32 goals-against average, .920 save percentage with the Bruins this past season.
Hes had great success at different levels and has proven he can win hockey games in the NHL, Muller said. He should be capable of do what we need, which is challenging Cam (Ward) and winning games for us.
Goalie Justin Peters has a one-way NHL contract with the Canes that will pay him $550,000 next season. Rutherford said Peters would be in preseason training camp and also would compete for the backup job.
Of the Canes unrestricted free agents, goaltender Dan Ellis landed a two-year deal Friday with the Dallas Stars. Others, including veteran forward Chad LaRose, still were looking.
Komisarek was traveling Friday to attend a wedding.
This is my second experience with the whole free-agent thing and I can definitely say this was a lot more enjoyable going through it, he said. It wasnt as hectic and crazy. ... I just thought this would be the best fit for myself and my family, to go down there and get a fresh breath of air.
Muller, whom Komisarek called Kirkie, said a defenseman with size would be needed as the Canes move into a new NHL division this season and face teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers more often.
The area we needed help was in being more physical around the net, Muller said. He gives us that and just a more physical presence on the back end. He also a very good penalty-killer.
Im looking forward to him playing with the passion I know he has. Its contagious.
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