Toronto Maple Leafs: Dion Phaneuf, Mike Komisarek Reunited


Were the Toronto Maple Leafs right to think they had something special in a Dion Phaneuf-Mike Komisarek defensive pairing?

Yesterday, we checked up on the present status of Mike Komisarek. It turns out he hasn’t really done anything hockey-wise following four disastrous seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. I can’t say that discovery surprises me.

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In any event, this led me to reflect on why the Leafs originally signed Komisarek. He was supposed to provide a super heavyweight presence on the blue line – one that would require the creation of a whole new belt class after the subsequent addition of Dion Phaneuf. The two defenders, in other words, represented the team’s hyperbolic commitment to unchecked tenacity under former general manager Brian Burke.

Obviously, Burke’s vision never came to fruition and both players can described as disappointments in Toronto. That Phaneuf is still playing with the Leafs seems like a cruel and possibly never-ending joke. We can’t get away from his suspect “leadership” and albatross-like contact.

However, I’m feeling generous today so let’s pretend Burke’s master plan actually worked. What would the Leafs have gotten from a Komisarek-Phaneuf pairing at its best?

Apr 8, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf (3) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Jackets won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

To answer this question, I’m going to play a little magic trick on you by simply combining each player’s best season. You have the comments section to express any misgivings with this approach.

From what I can see, Komisarek had his best season in 2007-2008 as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. A similar stretch way back into the past is needed to find Phaneuf’s best season, which was also 2007-2008 by some strange chance of coincidence. Phaneuf played for the Calgary Flames at the time and could still find the back of the net with ease and confidence.

Now comes the fun part: my questionable argument.

Komisarek recorded 17 points (four goals, 13 assists; 75 shots, 5.3 S%) in 75 games during the 2007-2008 season. This was good enough for his second-best season in terms of point production. Phaneuf, on the other hand, absolutely killed it in the offensive department that season, setting a still-standing career high of 60 points (17 goals, 43 assists; 263 shots, 6.5 S%) across a full slate of 82 games. Between the two players, that gives us a total of 77 points (21 goals, 56 assists; 338 shots, 6.2 S%), but it must be emphasized that Phaneuf represents the bulk of the offence.

Dec 29, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Mike Komisarek (5) warms up before playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to penalty minutes and hits, things look a bit more even. Komisarek’s 101 penalty minutes and 266 hits neatly counterbalance Phaneuf’s 182 penalty minutes and 194 hits. There’s no denying that these two behemoths, playing in their primes, would have been deadly together. If one was in the penalty box, the other would still have been there to shatter every bone in your little body.

With Phaneuf averaging 26:25 minutes (eight second short of a career high) of ice time per game, Komisarek would have needed to pick up the slack: he only averaged 21:09 minutes (a career high) of ice time per game in 2007-2008. Both posted healthy plus-minus ratings at plus-17 for Komisarek and plus-12 for Phaneuf.

Even just assuming the two could come anywhere close to repeating these numbers while playing together for the Leafs would have justified their union. There was little reason to doubt it either: Komisarek was 28 years old when the Leafs signed him while Phaneuf was only 24 when the Leafs traded for him; both were just one year removed from the career seasons identified above.

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  • There are many holes in the argument presented above – I don’t control for the teams around each player or who skated alongside them during their peak seasons; I ignore the impact of age and injury; I simply combine the numbers from two very special seasons; and Phaneuf and Komisarek never really played together anyway – but it does raise the very legitimate question: was Burke really that misguided to see something special in the presence of Komisarek and Phaneuf on the same blue line?

    In retrospect, we can answer this question in the positive, but things looked different at the time. I remember bragging about the potential duo when Phaneuf was first acquired by the Leafs. I was teaching English in Spain at the time and told anyone who would listen.

    I can’t remember the last time the Leafs got me that excited.

    What do you think? Don’t even hesitate – just lay into your criticisms below. Unlike Komisarek, I can take a punch or two and unlike Phaneuf, I can give one or two.

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