There's a real battle for playing time shaping up on the Leafs blueline as they head out on a Western Canada swing, but it doesn't appear the odd man out will be Mike Komisarek.
Asked about the potential logjam on defence with eight blueliners on the roster, coach Ron Wilson said he isn't going to guarantee anyone their spot.
"You have to earn your ice time," Wilson said. "If you have a bad period, you might find yourself with reduced ice time in the third period or the second period so it's very competitive. I'd prefer to have it that way. 'I'm going to play no matter what' is not the way any coach wants [his players]to operate. So there are players that are applying pressure to each other and that's good for the whole team."
Then asked about Komisarek in particular, however, Wilson made it clear he will play when he's recovered from a finger injury suffered in a fight last week.
"He's looking okay in practice, but he banged up his hand so we're not going to put him in there until he's 100 per cent because we've got healthy D," Wilson said. "When he's ready, he'll play."
Komisarek's ice time has been well down of late, with only 10:35, 9:43 and 10:35 minutes in his past three games. He has averaged a little under 16 minutes a game this season, well below the 19-plus minutes a game he has played in his past four seasons, and has made a few glaring mistakes in recent games.
His $4.5-million cap hit is a big chunk of the $25-million (including bonuses to the players on entry level deals) Toronto has committed to its blueline this season (46 per cent of what they're on pace to spend this year).
Phaneuf: $6.5-million Komisarek: $4.5-million Kaberle: $4.25-million Beauchemin: $3.8-million Schenn: $2.975-million Lebda: $1.45-million Gunnarsson: $800,000 Aulie: $733,333
Komisarek's minor injury came one night before Dion Phaneuf's return to the lineup, delaying a decision as to who will have to sit in an eight defenceman rotation. As long as rookie Keith Aulie remains with the Leafs and not the Marlies, there's going to be a fight for ice time on the back end and it sounds like the team will be slow in bringing Komisarek back.
Even though he can play this week.
"You don't like missing games, you don't like missing practices," he said after taking part in today's practice. "I'm making the trip and if I'm not ready tomorrow, definitely by Thursday. I definitely want to [play]"
Komisarek acknowledged he hasn't played well of late.
"I want to get my game back to where it should be," he said. "As tough as it is sitting out and missing a few games with an injury and battling back, I think it lets you reflect on the last couple weeks and lets you simplify things and gets you thinking about the thinks you need to do before you get back out there.
"You go through ups and downs. You want to eliminate those peaks and valleys in your game, you know? ... During training camp was tough to get back with the timing and the rhythm and stuff like that [after shoulder surgery]but the start of the season was pretty good. Just the last couple weeks, I don't think I've been my best."
He was asked if his confidence has been an issue this season given his struggles.
"When things aren't going well as a team and then individually, you make a couple mistakes, you tend to be a lot harder on yourself than you should be," he said. "At the end of the day, you have a job to come in, you have to execute better and you have to get the job done. Or someone else is going to be playing in your spot."
Right now, that "someone else" is Luke Schenn, who has already locked up a top-four role over Komisarek despite the fact he is eight years younger.
His next worry has to be losing even a third pairing role to other youngsters like Gunnarsson or Aulie, who both figure to be part of the Leafs' long-term plan.
Where Komisarek fits in isn't clear, especially if he continues to have more valleys than peaks.
- Wilson said J.S. Giguere will start against the Oilers tomorrow. Expect he and Jonas Gustavsson to then split the Calgary and Vancouver games on Thursday and Saturday.
- Schenn took a puck off the side of his right knee in practice and had to leave the ice, but said he would be fine to play in Edmonton. His knee was swollen and he had a bit of a limp as the puck found a spot without much padding. "I'll be fine," he said. "I'll be good to go for tomorrow. I have to get some more ice on it and the swelling down. They said it might have hit a nerve or something. That's why I couldn't put any pressure on it, but I'm sure it'll be fine for tomorrow and I'm not the least bit concerned."
- Wilson had a little fun with Phaneuf by booing him in practice today, something the coach said was intended to prepare him for what he'll hear a lot of in his return to Calgary later this week.