The future of Mike Komisarek and several of his Maple Leafs teammates is about as clear as the bleak January skies.
As Komisarek works to return from a suspected shoulder injury, several Leafs are pondering their future, unsure whether they still be in Toronto hours after the NHL trade deadline passes on March 3.
Komisarek can rest easy knowing it’s nearly a certainty he will not be dealt prior to the deadline. Not so for a group of players heading for unrestricted free agency, including goalie Vesa Toskala and forwards Lee Stempniak, Matt Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovsky.
General manager Brian Burke has said he would not be adverse to taking on salary in a trade, and if it meant sending a veteran to the minors to clear up room under the salary cap, he would not hesitate. But for Burke to be in a position to add serviceable bodies, the 14th-place Leafs have to start winning, starting Tuesday night at home against the Los Angeles Kings.
“It’s tough to be happy when you are losing games,” said Stempniak, who wants to stay in Toronto. “You try to have a positive mind frame, but I would be lying if I said I came in here every day with a big smile on my face. You try to be positive, but you understand there is a lot of work to be done.”
Jonas Gustavsson likely will get the bulk of the starts in goal, but Toskala, as mild-mannered a person as you’ll find, couldn’t bring himself to say he wants a fresh start. One team that might consider taking him could be the Calgary Flames, who need a backup and are run by Darryl Sutter, who briefly coached Toskala in San Jose.
“I would love to play, a lot,” Toskala said. “But it’s not something I can control.”
To say Komisarek’s first season with the Leafs has been nightmarish would be to sell the description short. When he has not been injured — Tuesday night will mark the 12th game he has missed with an upper-body problem (the Leafs won’t come out and say it’s a shoulder), and he sat out eight in November with a quad injury — Komisarek has registered four assists and a minus-9 rating in 34 games.
Komisarek revealed he recently visited renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., to have his shoulder trouble examined.
Though Komisarek stands a “good possibility,” in the words of coach Ron Wilson, of returning to the lineup on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks, surgery at some point apparently has not been ruled out.
“We’re just trying to sort that out,” Komisarek said after practising on Monday. “I am doing everything I can to get back on the ice rehab-wise, treatment-wise. I don’t like sitting out. I have never missed more than three weeks.”
Komisarek’s participation with the U.S. at the Olympics next month could be in jeopardy. Wilson will coach that team as well, but won’t think twice to leave Komisarek off the roster if the latter can’t get back into game shape with the Leafs.
“He would have about a week to feel comfortable, and if not, we would have to make other plans for the Olympics,” Wilson said. “I’m not going to put his career at risk, and we’re not going to risk his career with the Leafs for a two-week Olympic thing either.”