Different than it Used To Be
Mike Komisarek and John-Michael Liles, to meet, are both friendly and courteous fellows. In this age of Oscar Pistorius and beyond, we dare not go further than that, although if requested testimonials would be easily acquired on behalf of both men.
Liles, since coming to Toronto, has endeavoured to be part of several charitable efforts, including Liles' Buds, partnering with the Canadian Safe School Network to recognize young people who show community awareness and perform acts of kindness.
Both Komisarek and Liles are also respected, long-time pros who have played well, sometimes very well, at times in the NHL.
All of this is written to make one clear point; there should be no joy in Leaf-ville that both men were in the press box in Sunrise, Fla. on Monday night, putting $8.35 million of blueline talent off the active roster. There should not be any rejoicing simply because two proud NHLers are suddenly on the outside looking in.
Komisarek, the whipping post of seasons past, has played only four games and simply can't bust his way into the lineup. Liles was scratched Monday against the Panthers to make room for Carl Gunnarson, back from hip problems. The former Colorado defenceman played fairly well early in the season, but his prowess in the offensive zone generally isn't matched in the defensive zone, something that may not fit easily with defensive-minded head coach Randy Carlyle.
Komisarek has one more year left at $4.5 million. He may be bought out this summer. Liles has three more years left at $3.875 million, not an onerous salary but one not moved easily, either.
Both could return to active duty at some point, even soon, so this is not necessarily the conclusion to their careers as valued Leafs.
But while there should be no joy simply because Komisarek and Liles are having to deal with the embarrassment of not being used, Leaf fans may wish to look at this as a positive in this way; no longer do contracts decide who plays in Toronto.
And don't think this doesn't matter.
If you want to know why the Leafs, winners of six of their past seven, look a little hungrier this season, part of it may be because players are being pushed at every position, and few have the luxury of feeling safe.
That Mark Fraser, Korbinian Holzer and Mike Kostka - all making less than $600,000 per season - are playing while Liles and Komisarek are not tells you Carlyle has free rein to play his best lineup, regardless of who is owed what and for how many years.
In all, 17 Leafs are making less than the NHL average salary, including all the goaltenders. Tim Connolly ($4.75 million) is buried in the minors, which means, including buyouts and salary retained in the Matthew Lombardi trade, the Leafs are paying $16.675 million this season to players who weren't in the lineup Monday night.
That's a lot, and certainly a sign of personnel decisions that went wrong.
This, however, is where the financial muscle of a team can work in the salary cap era.
Many teams can't afford to not use players making that kind of money. They'd have to play them. Florida, for example, spent a lot of money last season on free agents just to get up to the salary floor, and whether those players are playing well or not, they must play.
That can create a corrosive atmosphere. Playing the best regardless of salary, on the other hand, creates a positive atmosphere. Those who are playing know they won't be displaced simply because another player has a bigger deal, and those with bigger deals, aside from the very top-end players, know they must perform to stay in the lineup. Or have to scratch and claw their way back in.
Look, it's no act of genius that the Leafs own some bad contracts. But every team does. Its what can be done with those players that matters.