TORONTO – Mike Komisarek is not oblivious to the impending buyout provision in the next CBA, nor is he immune to the connection of his name to it.
"I'm a realist," said a trimmed-down Komisarek on Tuesday afternoon. "I know where I stand. I know what's gone on here the last couple years. I don't need someone to tell me that I'm a candidate for that, but I see it as an opportunity. I have nothing to lose."
Now 30 and entering his 10th NHL season, Komisarek is attempting to reboot his career and leave behind the frustration and mess of his first three years in Toronto. With two years to go on a contract carrying an annual cap hit of $4.5 million, Komisarek is an obvious candidate for the new amnesty provision of the impending CBA, one that allows clubs two buyouts free from cap implications in the summer of 2013 or 2014.
Such a possibility has left the Long Island native teeming with motivation, anxious to reclaim hold of his career in what may be his final opportunity in Toronto.
"I don't want to make a headline," said Komisarek, "but you want to quiet people down and you want to shut people up. I know what I've shown is not the player I'm capable of [being]… I'm probably my harshest critic and I'm disappointed in myself, but you move on. I'm looking forward to having a good season."
Komisarek endured perhaps the worst season of his career last year, one that saw him play in just 45 games, a healthy scratch more often than not. Meeting with Randy Carlyle for exit interviews after a merciful end to the season, Komisarek received his bulletin board material for the offseason.
"The message was loud and clear to me at the end of the season," Komisarek recalled of the conversation.
Carlyle told him to slim down to 230 pounds for the start of training camp, a loss of 10-15 pounds from where he concluded last season. Komisarek took the advice to heart, using the summer and subsequent locked-out months to shed the weight while targeting both his movement and athleticism. "We saw what happened with Nazem Kadri this summer," he grinned of Kadri, who arrived at Marlies training camp with undesirable body fat results and was subject to headlines for it. "He came into camp and there was sort of a rude awakening for him. I know guys sort of took that message and didn't want anyone coming to camp and having that happen to them. I took that message to heart."
Evidence of that determination will show itself shortly with the dawn of training camp and fitness testing on Sunday. "You are who you are at this point," he laughed. "There's no cramming for the fitness test."
At one point in the fall, he landed in Arizona for informal skates amongst a large group of NHL players which included Sidney Crosby. Komisarek was struck by the intensity, focus and determination of the Penguins star, describing with awe how Crosby managed to train through a nasty flu bug at one point.
After nearly three frustrating years under Ron Wilson, Komisarek - who was married in July - is looking to carve out the beginnings of a new future under Randy Carlyle. Carlyle is set to continue the imposition of a new defensive system and mentality - a shift that began in March - striking a direct contrast in approach to Wilson. "Where in the past it was more of a run-and-gun, we lacked that accountability a little bit," said Komisarek of the Leafs, who ranked 29th in goals against last season. "They're not going to hold preference to which guy it is. Guys are going to be held accountable. I think that message is going to be loud and clear when guys come into camp 'you better be ready to compete, you better be ready to work'."
It remains to be seen whether Komisarek can adapt and become a useful part for Carlyle on a defence with question marks. Quickness issues have dogged Komisarek since he left Montreal, subsequent struggles pushing his confidence downward, thus diminishing the requisite toughness of his prior game.
The fork in the road may have arrived. He knows the stakes.
"I've got nothing to lose," Komisarek concluded. "I want to lay it all on the line. I know I haven't played my best. I see it as a great opportunity. I want to contribute and more importantly I want to win here.
"What's said is said and what's happened is in the past. I've already moved forward. I'm looking forward to this start to this year."