TORONTO - Mike Komisarek knew there was criticism of his play, knew that observers didn’t think he was giving the Maple Leafs enough bang for their buck.
But the defenceman knew there was something he could do about it during the off-season.
“In Toronto, people are quick to remind you about how the past has gone, how you have played, criticize you,” the 29-year-old said during an interview in a mostly empty Leafs dressing room at the MasterCard Centre on Thursday.
“The media was doing their job. But the only thing I could control was what I was going to do about it moving forward, how I was going to play.”
So after wearing the colours of the United States at the world hockey championship in the spring, Komisarek returned to his off-season home in Long Island, N.Y., and began working out. But where he might have been lifting weights before, Komisarek instead threw himself into sprinting and jumping exercises.
Has the result been the next coming of Bobby Orr during training camp and the pre-season? Of course not. But Komisarek is quicker, though not necessarily lighter.
“I just listened to my body more,” he said. “I’ve always been strong and I’m always going to be strong. I felt I had to move a lot better.
“I’ve always felt I was a good skater for my size (6-foot-4 and 243 pounds), but I did not feel like I was moving to my capability the way I should be. “Now, I feel like I have more jump.”
Though there had been speculation on the outside that the Leafs might consider sending Komisarek and his contract — a $4.5-million US salary cap hit for the next three seasons — to the Marlies, that’s not going to happen.
“Our game is evolving, so you have to be able to move,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “That’s what was getting him into a little trouble last year. He did not have much time whenever he got the puck, and he realized that. Getting himself even a 10th of a second of more time to make a decision, that helps.”
Komisarek has been solid since camp opened, but for Wilson, there’s more to it than being more fleet afoot. A cynic might say the Leafs are trying to make Komisarek attractive in a possible trade. The difference, though, has been noticeable.
“He is relaxed, not tight,” Wilson said. “He doesn’t care what people are saying about him. The most important thing is to block out people’s perceived ideas of him and just play the game simple. He has done that, and he has played really well.”
There’s another reason general manager Brian Burke might not have considered making a Marlie out of Komisarek. The backlash could have been heavy, given that Burke signed Komisarek to a five-year pact in 2009. But Komisarek also is an upbeat voice in the dressing room, and the Leafs have no interest in removing him from that environment.
But most importantly, Komisarek has cemented his spot in the top six. If the Leafs decide to keep Jake Gardiner, the youngster will not be sitting in the press box, and could be partnered with Komisarek. Of the nine defencemen remaining in camp, Matt Lashoff surely will be sent to the Marlies, leaving Gardiner, Keith Aulie and Carl Gunnarsson to battle for one spot.
“(Komisarek) has battled some injuries and right now, I’m very confident with him on the ice,” Wilson said. “I’m not holding my breath anymore. I was always waiting for a burp at some point and I haven’t seen that. We’re encouraging him, and if he keeps playing like that, there is no problem.”
The accolades, Komisarek knows, are better than the arrows. But this is the pre-season and nothing has been accomplished yet.
“I’m not satisfied, but I’m happy in the direction I’m going,” Komisarek said. “This is not my first merry-go-round. It’s up to me to go out there and not try to do too much, be that steady, reliable defenceman they want me to be.
“I want to freaking win here. That’s all that is on my mind.”