TORONTO – The ongoing NHL work stoppage has kept the dreams of Leo Komarov idly on the shelf and as such, the 25-year-old has seemingly decided to return to the KHL.
"If there was no lockout, this would not be going on at all," said Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins, "he would either be playing for our team or playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs."
While not officially done yet – Komarov remains a Marlie for the time being – the gears are in motion to allow the 2006 sixth round pick to return to Moscow Dynamo, the KHL team he spent the past three seasons with, winning the Gagarin Cup for the first time last spring.
Contractual hurdles remain the single barrier between such a reunion. While his one-year contract with the organization did include a provision to allow for such a return, both Komarov and Leaf management are working to ensure that he is able to return to North America if the lockout were to end anytime soon.
"One of the big things is I think Leo wants to make sure that if he does leave that he can come back if the lockout ends," said Eakins, noting a similar sentiment from the organization's perspective.
"No matter what happens, this kid is a good prospect, he's worked hard to get where he's at for a shot at the NHL. And that's his end-game. For Leo, this is about playing in the NHL, that's what he wants to do and I think he's going to push for a job if it ever does start back up."
Komarov enjoyed a comfortable and financially more sustaining life in the KHL – certainly more than the $62,500 salary he drew with the Marlies, according to CapGeek – but was driven by childhood goals of playing in the NHL.
"It's maybe that whole thing about I want to try and see if I can make it," Komarov explained back in early October. "If not, then I'm going to live with it. But if I will stay in KHL, yeah it's good money, it's nice to be there, but then when I'm 40, [my kids] are going to ask me 'Why didn't you play in the NHL?'"
A member of the Finnish national team, Komarov remains an intriguing possibility for the Leafs when the lockout does end. While the NHL roster is chalk full of forwards, Komarov brings a unique element to the table, a scrappy winger capable of affecting the game in more ways than one; consistent energy, enthusiasm physically and hinting offensive potential.
Tied for the team lead with five goals after 11 games, Komarov will remain with the Marlies – playing and practicing – until a suitable conclusion is reached. He was not made available for comment on the matter.