This isn’t exactly breaking news since it happened some time last night (and had been rumoured since June 23), but Mike Komisarek is done in Toronto after being the first of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ compliance buy-outs. He had been playing the second half of the season with the Toronto Marlies after requesting to be sent down just so he could get some playing time.
Komisarek was that rare combination of a bad player tagged to a bad contract. He was due to make $3.5M this season, but will now have to settle with making $1.155-million over each of the next two years. His $4.5-million cap hit is erased from the books, but Komisarek is still paid out two-thirds of his contract over twice the remaining years.
The buy-out itself is just as disappointing as the player, actually. While I can say that there is no known universe that features Komisarek on a Leafs Stanley Cup-winning team, ultimately the a number of really poor decisions has totalled up the cap space saved by this buy-out. With better decision-making in the past, the Leafs could have saved this buy-out for next season and perhaps grabbed a good piece from the Philadelphia Flyers or Pittsburgh Penguins, two teams that are committing lots of money to lots of players.
Pension Plan Puppets has a post up that links to their past write-up on the day the Leafs signed Komisarek, where it was anticipated as a lousy signing, but Chemmy notes “was somehow worse than our expectations”. There’s always an impulse to blame a player that is well-paid and not producing, but why blame the Komisareks and Jeff FIngers of the world for signing outrageous sums of money when their management teams didn’t do due diligence?
It happens when teams overvalue certain traits and undervalue others. For the first portion of his time in Toronto, Brian Burke wanted the Leafs defensive corps to get big and mean. He acquired Komisarek, Dion Phaneuf, Garnet Exelby and François Beauchemin. Towards the end, he became a little more focused on getting defencemen that had some skating ability like Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson, and eventually drafting Morgan Rielly in the first round. Perhaps that’s a coincidence, but Komisarek’s spot on the roster served as a reminder for what happens when you give players with limited offensive ability long contracts.
That doesn’t mean “fire everybody in management”. Teams change, managers change, they adapt, they grow, and they learn from their mistakes. I think if Burke is ever a general manager in the NHL again, he won’t make another mistake like the Komisarek one, and despite his public defence of the contract when Komisarek failed to live up to expectations, he never seemed to take it too personally that Komisarek spent 16 games in the press box during Burke’s final two years in Toronto as a healthy scratch.
From a cap management perspective, the Leafs better have plans for this $4.5-million it opens without getting into the same problem. From a cap management perspective, there was an argument to be made that perhaps an additional amnesty buyout was more valuable to the Leafs to be exchanged for perhaps a good, young player next summer. Komisarek had just one year left on his deal, and his hit was managable, but it became less so after the addition of $2-million worth of mistakes by Dave Nonis.
In addition to the final year of cap hits on buyouts to Colby Armstrong and Darcy Tucker worth $1-million each, the Leafs are spending nearly $2-million on salaries to players that are no longer with the team (Matt Frattin, Ben Scrivens), Colton Orr, and whatever they pay Frazer McLaren. With the addition of tiny mistakes, the Leafs lose what will potentially be a valuable buy-out next summer, and while Komisarek remains a popular whipping boy, he is harmless when he is sitting on the bench of the Toronto Marlies.
According to CapGeek, the Maple Leafs have a little over $19-million in cap space, although there are still payouts to come to Jonathan Bernier, Carl Gunnarsson, Cody Franson, Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, and possibly Mark Fraser. As Mirtle notes, if the RFA signings come in a reasonable price, the Leafs would still have about $7-million in cap space to use on two wingers and a right-handed defenceman.
The second would have to come via trade, as the UFA pool for defencemen is very dry. What scares me is that with both cap space and the need for a winger, the Leafs will be in the running for David Clarkson, and while I don’t think that Clarkson is a bad player, I also don’t think he is a player worth comitting long term to, when he is essentially just a local Nik Kulemin, a player who is younger, cheaper, and probably better.