Leafs playing it safe with Komisarek

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

A season that went south for Mike Komisarek will officially end on an operating table in Birmingham, Ala., next Wednesday.

But the big defenceman already is making big plans for 2010-11, when he and the Maple Leafs expect to get off on much more solid ground.

Komisarek was going to champion general manager Brian Burke's truculence and testosterone approach. The latter loves to start such projects on the blueline where Komisarek was lured from Montreal for five years and $22.5 million US, joining Francois Beauchemin and Garnet Exelby. He and Beauchemin were made alternate captains by opening night and many expected the media-saavy Long Islander would have the 'C' sewn on full-time by year's end -- if he and the Leafs stuck to the script.

OVERBOARD

But from opening night, when he went overboard trying to impress fans and his old team, the start of an October spiral, to a mid-November quad muscle tear, to a shoulder problem that worsened in the game after he was named to the U.S. Olympic team in early January, Komisarek never found a comfort zone.

And he wasn't about to try forcing it by going to Vancouver after a month on the shelf, playing sub-par for the Americans and jeopardizing his Leafs status.

"We weren't going to put him in a position where he's one hit away from blowing his shoulder up," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said Thursday. "One shift in the Olympics. and you'd hurt the Leafs and (Team USA, which Wilson also coaches)."

So, instead of taking the usual puck, or punch, for the team, this time he's taking a scalpel from reknowned athletic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, who will repair Komisarek's torn right labrum and "clean up" some other issues that Komisarek was reluctant to divulge Thursday at the MasterCard Centre. Recovery is pegged at four to six months.

"I knew (earlier this month when visiting Andrews) that it was something I'd eventually have to get worked on," Komisarek said. "But he said: 'You owe it to yourself and your team to work as hard as you can to try and strengthen it and maybe avoid the neeed for surgery'. He recommended some treatments to have it stronger before they go in there.

"In the end, it gives me confidence I have the best guy working on me for next year. You look on his website and he'd done about 40,000 operations. I've given myself the best odds to fully recover."

Komisarek, Burke and Wilson tried to dampen conspiracy theorists who claim the whole shoulder issue and Komisarek's struggles result from last year's much-hyped fight with Boston's Milan Lucic that dislocated his shoulder.

"Two different things," Komisarek said. "They had to pop it back in, but in three weeks I came back, I felt strong, I had complete certainty."

Burke said any major problem with Komisarek's shoulder would have become evident during Leafs camp medicals. Wilson pointed to Komisarek's best stretch as a Leaf in December, when he simplified his game and the club charged to within two points of a playoff spot.

"He passed his physical, but a player such as Mike will have (shoulder risks) anyway," Burke said. "We were told he may injure it again. It's like a car with a loose part, it will break down eventually and you get it fixed.

"The year has been a letdown for him, but I've told him: 'If I had to sign you, I'd do it again."

Right up until Wednesday's final tests by Leafs doctors, Komisarek was hoping he'd get to Vancouver.

"In your head, you try and rehab it and make your case to have the surgery done at the end of the year," he said. "But then you run the risk of injuring it in camp and missing the start of the year."

Phil Kessel, who missed the first month of this season with labrum surgery, is ready to talk his teammate through the process.

"You're nervous, because it's not like a little surgery, it's like part of your life." Kessel said. "But he plays a rough game out there and he needs it done. I knew I'd be 100%, but six months is a long time not to be playing hockey."

Burke joked that he won't let Komisarek gather dust in the interim.

"He's a positive influence elsewhere," Burke said. "As soon as the surgery is done, I told him you're now a member of our advertising sales team."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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