So far 2015 hasn’t been too fun for Leo Komarov. He spent
the back half of last season trying to recover from an early December
concussion. And his joyride along a Finnish highway stuck him with a $51,000
speeding ticket. You’d think things would have to start improving for
Komarov at some point.
The 2015-16 is a clean slate, but not one without new
challenges. As a bottom six winger, Komarov has to establish a foothold in a
lineup that seems to be entirely built of bottom six wingers, and without a
coach or GM with ties to him, it should be a high pressure training camp for
I’ll let Jeff’s t-shirt design explain the story
Komarov started the year with 17 points in 24 games and it
looked like Leo might have been capable of producing offense just as well in
the NHL as he did in the KHL. After his injury, reality set in and with nine points
in the remaining 38 games.
Of course, if the 17 points in 24 is one extreme, there’s
every reason to believe that 9 points in 38 games could be the other extreme,
especially since Komarov was coming back from an injury. If we’re taking him at
the average of the two extremes and going with the fact that he’s 26 point in
62 games kind of guy, while playing around 15 minutes a night, there’s no
reason to expect that he wouldn’t be a solid fit on the Leafs 3rd
The fact that Komarov had such meaningful shot suppression
last season, it seems that he’s an ideal candidate to become a linemate of
someone like Joffrey Lupul, and could help benefit a still relatively new to
the NHL center in Peter Holland or support Tyler Bozak if this is finally the
year that he’s usurped as the first line center. Komarov plays a role very
similar to Matthias, Winnik, Beck, and Glencross, but without the higher
probability of offensive upside.
A few of the numbers that stood out because they’ll likely be
related to how Komarov is used going forward are his Zone Starts, Corsi Events,
Under Randy Carlyle it seemed a given that he’d have Komarov
on the ice for a defensive start, and the numbers definitely reflect that.
Unfortunately, the results weren’t as ideal as in Komarov’s first tour of
Toronto as his on ice save percentage took a dive (though very much in line
with the rest of the team) and his relative corsi also declined. Komarov is
still a relatively low event player considering the number of defensive starts
he receives, and perhaps that is the greatest selling point on him moving forward.
The fact that as a pest he’s managed to
wind up on the positive side of the penalty differential also shows that the
unique quality he’s brought in the past certainly isn’t hurting the team in any
WHAT TO EXPECT IN
Since there’s no pressing salary cap issue we can ignore the
fact that Leo Komarov is overpaid, it’s likely to be a non-issue for the
remaining couple of years he’s under contract. Instead we can focus on the fact
that game that Komarov plays is very similar to what Babcock has utilized in
Detroit in players like Holmstrom, Cleary, etc.
The fact that Komarov has proven he’s capable at lining up
at any forward position will also give Babcock a lot of flexibility in forming
a lineup that is almost impossible to predict at this point, but with Komarov
being skilled enough be a regular, and have an intangible tool kit that
includes leadership, recklessness, and agitation, Uncle Leo will definitely be
a coaches favourite as much as he’s a fan favourite.
As I mentioned earlier, and Own The Puck’s HERO charts
support, Komarov is best utilized as a third line winger. There are a number of
either under experienced forwards or generally defensively awful forwards on
the Leafs who can benefit from having him on their line. If I had to cast my
vote for what the Leafs third line would look like it would probably be
Komarov-Bozak-Lupul, giving Leo the opportunity to take the lead in the
defensive zone and provide a net presence to two softer forwards.
At times, Babcock seems to rely on shutdown lines, and while
it might not be something that he’ll regularly roll throughout the game, I
wonder if we’ll see Komarov see a significant amount of time with players like
Matthias, Spaling, Beck, and Winnik in close situations.
All that being said, is Komarov the right player for the
Leafs moving forward?
Komarov has another year under contract after the 2015-16
season, and he would be an undersized 30 year forward who plays a reckless
style that has already caused him to miss a significant number of games. If he’s
looking for a similar payday to the one he received in his last negotiations it
should be a nonstarter.
Considering all of this, if Komarov plays himself into a
situation this year where he’s a moveable asset it’s probably time to say
goodbye to Leo. With Brendan Leipsic being close to ready to step in and
perform a similar role to Komarov at fraction of the cost and with a
potentially higher upside, it would be encouraging to see Leo finish the season
in another team’s jersey.
- 2006 World Juniors Bronze for Finland
- 2007 Served as Captain of the Finnish World Junior Team
- 2011 World Hockey Championship Gold for Finland
- 2011 KHL All-Star
- 2012 Won Gagarin Cup with Dynamo Moscow
- 2014 Olympic Bronze for Finland
- 2014 World Hockey Championship Silver for Finland