By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (May 27) – Clearly, the terms have to be reasonable.
If Leo Komarov is looking for a five-year contract to return to the National Hockey League, there aren’t likely to be many suitors. If, however, the 25-year-old Russian is willing to accept a three-year offer, he’ll be extremely popular on July 1. That’s the date Komarov becomes an unrestricted free agent. Until then – as a Group II restricted player – Komarov and his representative, Mark Gandler, must negotiate solely with Toronto Maple Leafs, the team for which Komarov played during the 48-game abbreviated schedule in 2013. Given his energetic, at-times rambunctious contribution to a club that achieved more than expected – and one that was clearly diminished without him this past season – Komarov is due a healthy raise from the $850,000 he earned on a two-way deal. How much of a raise; for how many years and exactly what role Komarov would play here in Toronto are factors that both Gandler and Maple Leafs general manager David Nonis are considering.
Negotiations have taken place. All things being equal, Komarov would like to re-sign with the Leafs and re-connect with a hockey crowd that clearly embraced his contribution. But, options will be available to him after July 1. Ever since Komarov went home last summer to play with Moscow Dynamo of the KHL, there’s been puzzlement and confusion over why he didn’t stay with the Leafs. As always, money was a factor. Leafs invested large amounts in David Clarkson and Tyler Bozak; then locked up Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf in mega-deals during the season. Another monster pact is due Jonathan Bernier before next season and we don’t know how the Leafs’ composition will change this summer as the salary cap inflates toward $71 million. Will, for example, the Leafs actively pursue a trade involving Phaneuf, thereby clearing a $7 million cap hit and – more importantly – altering the club’s wobbly leadership? Will other changes be made to the nucleus involving the top-six forwards? All of these will factor into Komarov’s potential return.
LEO KOMAROV WOULD LIKE TO MIX IT UP AGAIN FOR THE LEAFS – ON THE BOARDS AND IN FRONT OF THE NET. MONEY, CONTRACT TERM AND HIS POTENTIAL ROLE WITH THE CLUB WILL DETERMINE MATTERS. HE IS AN UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT JULY 1.
On the surface, however, it’s clear the Maple Leafs should take a hard look at bringing Komarov back. His Kamikaze-like approach to every shift was infectious during the lockout-shortened schedule and while the Leafs were extending Boston to seven games in the opening playoff round. As a bargaining chip, Gandler can point out that Leafs have made the playoffs only once in the past decade – with his client on board.
For his part, Komarov may want at least a partial role beyond that of a fourth-line bulldog. When speaking with him after he left the Maple Leafs a year ago, Komarov felt he could have contributed more with increased playing time and an occasional turn in the top-six forward arrangement. Of course, players of that ilk cost more. If Nonis and Randy Carlyle are unwilling to consider such a move – and proportionate compensation – it’s fairly certain Komarov will test the open market in July.
Otherwise, character should top the list of any Maple Leaf ambition this off-season and Komarov undoubtedly brought that intangible to the club. Does he have enough tangible quality to warrant, say, a three-year contract in the neighborhood of $2.5 million a season?
I would say yes, but it isn’t my money.
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