The next chapter of Mike Komisarek’s career began Monday, with the veteran defenseman safe in the knowledge that it can’t be any worse than the last one and could turn out infinitely better.
The Carolina Hurricanes’ first free-agent signing of the summer was also one of their cheapest, and for such a small investment – $700,000 – it has the potential to pay off in grand fashion. Komisarek, at 6-feet-4, 235 pounds, could be the big, crease-clearing defenseman the Hurricanes have lacked for years.
That’s what Komisarek was, once, before his career fizzled with the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s what he hopes he can be again. That’s what the Hurricanes desperately need him to be again.
“Hockey’s been good to me,” Komisarek said Monday after his first Raleigh Center Ice informal practice with his new teammates. “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.
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“What really separates guys is having their name on the Cup and having that ring, when all is said and done. There are a bunch of guys in this room who have done it, and I want to contribute to that and make the most of this opportunity.”
There actually aren’t as many guys in the Hurricanes’ dressing room who have their name on the Cup as there used to be – only Eric Staal and Cam Ward are left from 2006 at this point, while Jordan Staal and Kevin Westgarth won it elsewhere – which makes Komisarek’s arrival all the more timely.
For a team that has missed the playoffs four years in a row and six of the last seven years, there weren’t major changes this offseason. Jim Rutherford is still the general manager. Kirk Muller is still the coach. The forward group is still largely the same forward group. To date, the only major changes are at backup goalie, where Anton Khudobin will push Ward, and on defense, where the Hurricanes added Komisarek and Andrej Sekera.
Sekera is a relatively known quantity, an upgrade over Jamie McBain, for whom he was traded, on the second or third pairing. At 31, Komisarek is a complete unknown. Is he the defenseman that gave the Hurricanes so much trouble in the 2006 playoffs when he was a young, up-and-comer for the Montreal Canadiens? Or is he the defenseman who flamed out in Toronto after signing a five-year, $22.5 million contract?
If it’s the former, the Hurricanes will not only have landed one of the great bargains of the offseason but changed the complexion of their blue line – so painfully exposed by Ward’s injury last season – in a manner that may help point the way back to the postseason.
Komisarek is just getting settled now, having taken up residence in a sort-of Home for Wayward Defenseman, renting Joe Corvo’s old house, where Jay Harrison was once a tenant as well. It’s a one-year deal, so Komisarek isn’t putting down any roots yet. But he’s ready to do just that if it all works out.
“It was really the only team I thought was a perfect fit before the whole free-agency process started,” Komisarek said. “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.”
If he does that this season, he’ll be in a position to profit handsomely. So, for that matter, will the Hurricanes.