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Leafs Komisarek ready to answer call to truculence

And so once again the trumpet call to truculence is sounding, on this particular morning cutting its way through the coughing and random expectorating of fluids and clichés that signal Toronto Maple Leafs training camp physicals.

It is to be hoped that this season Mike Komisarek can filter some of the nonsense out. There is an unnerving inevitability to Komisarek, whose lost first year of a five-year, $22.5-million (U.S.) contract ended in February with shoulder surgery and left him with no goals, four assists and 40 penalty minutes to show for 34 games. A seventh overall pick in 2001, he has the size and attitude that suggests he's at home in the hurly burly of the game.

At times with the Montreal Canadiens, his former team, there were glimpses of offensive awareness. But here's the thing: watching Komisarek wade into the thick of things or line up an opponent is cringe-inducing, because too often he's the movable force or the movable object. That's what happened with the Canadiens, when he was beaten mercilessly by Milan Lucic in a fight in November, 2008, injuring his shoulder, then targeted during the 2009 playoffs by Lucic again and also Zdeno Chara.

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It was Komisarek whose errant neutral zone pass was picked off by the Bruins in Game 3 of the conference quarter-finals in April, 2009, leading to a tying goal that was a pivotal play in pushing the Bruins past their arch-rivals.

It was the same right shoulder that Komisarek dislocated in 2008-09 that required surgery last season - a pre-emptive move by the Leafs and Komisarek. At the time, head coach Ron Wilson said Komisarek was "one hit away from having his shoulder blow up."

Depth on defence figures to be one of the Leafs' strengths heading into the 2010-11 season, and indeed it's possible that the depth is more than the club wants, since Tomas Kaberle and his pain-in-the-butt no-trade clause are still in the building. And it is Kaberle - the guy whose father says hates the coach - who is expected to partner Komisarek at this point, even though Kaberle is expected to miss four of the first five exhibition games in what Wilson knows is a coach's decision that is sure to provide fodder for the blogosphere.

"That's the pairing I wanted last year, too, until injuries changed it," Wilson said. "I just want [Komisarek]to relax, play within himself, get the puck as quickly as he can to [Kaberle]and be a physical presence every time steps on ice."

Seriously, though: might it not be time for Komisarek to try a different tack and maybe settle for being the big, tough, smart defenceman? You know - a little more tactical and a little less truculent? I mean, god bless him, but the boy seems to have no sense of self-preservation.

Komisarek said Friday that having the game "taken away from him" gave him time to better understand the need to simplify his game. "You come in last year, and you want to change the world in a day," he said, shrugging.

The key, Komisarek admitted, is finding an identity. "You have artists, plumbers, grinders, skill guys, bruisers …" he said. "I need to be a stay-at-home defenceman who plays hard, wins all the battles in the defensive zone and make a good first pass."

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Komisarek arrived last season to suggestions he might be the Leafs captain, eventually. Now, that 'C' belongs to Dion Phaneuf, whose public countenance is in many ways the opposite to Komisarek. It would be more fun hearing Komisarek as team spokesman during club crisis - otherwise known in these parts as the first game of the regular season - because Komisarek at least seems to be searching for a one-liner. Phaneuf? He looks like a guy searching for a teleprompter. But maybe that's to the good. Maybe it's time for Mike Komisarek to start living the cliché: play within himself. Be comfortable in his skin, and take this truculence thing with a grain of salt.

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