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Free Agent Defensemen & the Devils: Mike Komisarek

Let's continue our series of at the unrestricted free agent defensemen that will be available this summer that the Devils could sign.  Given that the top-pairing defensemen pickings are, well, slim; the bulk of this feature will look to at possible second-pairing defensemen.  The idea being that such a defenseman won't cost too much while representing a proper upgrade over Mike Mottau.

In terms of players per soon-to-be-former-team, Montreal leads the way with seven UFA defenders.  Granted, two of those are Mathieu Schneider and Patrice Brisebois and given their ages, they aren't viable options at a #3/4 spot.  Neither are Doug Janik and Alex Henry, who were rotatational defensemen who didn't see a lot of minutes.  Among the remaining three, there are Matheiu Dandenault, Francois Bouillon, and Mike Komisarek.  

An excellent primer for these three defenders comes from Robert at Habs Eyes on the Prize.  Earlier this month, ex-coach Jacques Demers offered his thoughts on how he would handle Montreal's free agents to RDS. Robert translated his thoughts and offered his own on the various players.   With respect to Dandenault and Bouillon, Robert doesn't rate either as anything more than a third-pairing/seventh-defenseman option.  Given what I know and seen of each of them, I don't disagree. The Devils really don't have a need for that type of player given Andy Greene, Mike Mottau (should his spot get an upgrade), Jay Leach, and defensemen from Lowell (coughCorrentecough) could handle that same spot.  So the one remaining option is Komisarek.

Mike Komisarek

#8 / Defenseman / Montreal Canadiens



Jan 19, 1982

2008-09 Salary: $1.7 million

2008 - Mike Komisarek 66 2 9 11 0 121 0 0 0 0 56 3.6

Continue on for more about Mike Komisarek's game and how he would (or would not) benefit the Devils.

In Robert's write-up about Komisarek, he notes that Komisarek is coming off a season where he dealt with multiple injuries. As a result, his overall game suffered.  Robert saw him much more than I did, so I'm not really going to dispute it.  Yet, looking at the numbers at Behind the Net on even strength, it doesn't seem to me that Komisarek had a bad season by any means!  He holds the third best rating on the team and faced the highest quality of competition among regular players. With respect to when he was on and off the ice, the Canadiens conceded 0.33 more goals per 60 minutes and 0.5 more shots per 60 minutes when Komisarek was off the ice than when he was on.  OK, that's not earth-shattering, but it represents a positive defensive contribution in his average of 20:37 minutes a night.  Plus, it's an improvement over the same per-60 minute stats that he had in 2007-08, when he was healthier (though his rating was much higher).

I guess the larger point is that Komisarek's not bad at what he does.   And what does he do?  Well, it's certainly not shooting and scoring!  The man is a 27 year old defensive defenseman.   As I understand it, based on prior seasons, he'll give you 20-22 minutes a night, he'll block shots, and he'll throw hits.  Oh, does he throw hits.  If you're the guy at the Rock who screams that the Devils "hit somebody" whenever the opposition has the puck for more than 5 seconds, you will love Komisarek.  And not just because he is a big, 6'4", 240+ lbs. defenseman who knows to use his strength and size to punish the opposition.  In his last four seasons with Montreal, all seasons where he played more than 60 games, here are his official hit totals: 145, 248, 266, and 191 - his most recent season.   Yeah, Komisarek hits a lot.

Unfortunately, Komisarek's hitting can be a double-edged sword as he takes quite a few penalties.  The last time Komisarek took fewer than 90 penalty minutes in a season was 2003-04, and he only played in 46 games that season.  Wait a minute.  I'm getting a weird feeling of deja-vu.   A defensive defenseman who's big, hits opponents, produces fewer than 20 points a season, tends to take penalties that can cost his team, and, wait, what else did Robert say:

This past season, with injuries taken into consideration, he often looked as though he was a player attempting to do too much. When going beyond his abilities, he exposes his shortcomings. When he plays within his toolbox, he accentuates his positives to the point of dominance. Perhaps like his comrade Higgins, free agency may have forced him to push too hard in ways that compromised his basic game. Komisarek's presense, leadership, and grit aren't easily replaceable assets...

I get it now! Komisarek is almost like Colin White at the same age!  OK, a more shot-blocking version of White; but the styles are very similar.

Now, the good news for that is that the flaws in Komisarek's game - not knowing when to hit properly, not knowing when to let up or keep his stick down, etc. - are fixable.  If Komisarek's career becomes like White's, he'll become a very solid defensive defenseman.  White has cut down on the stupid penalties, which alone makes him more valuable, and the experience he has developed has improved his decision making.  Not that he's never prone to bad decisions, but it's a lot better than it was pre-lockout.  Komisarek may not ever be a top-pairing player, but he'll be an important cog on the machine that is the blueline if he can do some of the same things White has done in his career.

Plus, given Robert's comments, it seems that putting Komisarek on the second pairing would be a good fit.  He would get significant minutes, but he won't be asked to constantly go up against the opposition's best wherein he would be tempted to do more than he really can.  The only real "minute eater" on the Devils is Paul Martin and he's proven he can handle the load with an average of 24:22 per game.  Not even his usual defenseman partner Johnny Oduya comes close to that with an average of 20:52.  For reference, White averaged 19:01 per game.  That tells me the second pairing can be ideal for a player who can only do so much like Komisarek.

However, there are two big red flags with respect to Komisarek. The first is the same problem that will come up in re-signing Johnny Oduya.  Komisarek is a young defenseman due for a raise and given the market isn't filled with guys like Oduya and him, the potential for overpayment is high.  Caron dropped the number of $3.5-4 million for Komisarek in his comments to RDS and even pondered $5 million or more.  Given that Martin is making $4.5 million next year, it's going to be hard to justify that much (or more!) unless Komisarek is going to be put on the top pairing and given serious minutes.   Not to mention it will make keeping Martin more difficult after next season. Quite frankly, from what I've seen, Komisarek is definitely not a $5 million/year player and I really don't want him in New Jersey if he's going to cost that much!

Given that he's like a younger Colin White, I would like to think  that a deal with White's salary ($3 million/year) would suffice with a proper length of time - not to mention it would still leave some money left over for Oduya and everyone else.   Yet, I would like to think a lot of things that are just pie-in-the-sky thoughts.  He's young and available and that's rare in this market -  he and his agents can command much more than what White has been getting.   Between the two, I'd rather spend that money on Oduya than Komisarek.

This leads me to the second big red flag.  Komisarek is definitely not an offensive defenseman so he's not going to bring offense to a blueline that could use it.  That said, is Komisarek better than Mike Mottau?  Yes, I think so.  Would he be a better signing than Christian Backman? Yes, I think so.  Does he have skills that would benefit the defense?  By being a big shot blocker and a certifiable hit machine, yes, I would say so. But would he fill in a need?  Given that Colin White is already here, White's staying, and that White's not doing a poor job, the answer is no. 

If White was planning on retiring or if he was just plain awful, then signing Komisarek to essentially replace him would make sense. But I don't think it makes sense the Devils don't need to do that.  Especially that he reminds me of a Colin White from years ago with the penalties and the ill-advised hits and the questionable decision-making in his own zone. White did improve on all that and I'm confident that Komisarek can improve too.   Should the Devils suffer the responsibility and risk of an improving Komisarek?  Since I don't think he's necessary at this point, I think the answer to that is no.  (And it becomes a much more emphatic no, the more he's going to cost a team.)

Komisarek's not a bad player by any stretch and he really wouldn't be a bad signing assuming the contract isn't another albatross.  You can do a lot worse - and I mean a lot worse than Komisarek.  However, since he's a lot like Colin White and the Devils already have Colin White, I don't think he's necessarily the best choice among defensive defensemen available.