If defenseman Mike Komisarek
was going to leave Montreal, a place he called home for his first six NHL seasons, the next destination on his career path was a logical choice.
Komisarek agreed to a five-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs
on Wednesday, the first day of the NHL's free-agent signing period, and in a conference call with the media on Thursday explained what made his decision an easy one.
"Being in a hockey mecca [in Montreal] and going into another Original Six city, the fans are really passionate and that's important," Komisarek said. "I never saw myself playing in a non-traditional market. I've always had a vision of playing in a traditional hockey environment where there's electricity in the building."
Komisarek, who has 12 goals and 58 points in 361 career regular-season games, fits perfectly into Toronto General Manager Brian Burke
's plan to add size and snarl. Despite playing just 66 games due to injuries, the 6-foot-4, 243-pounder finished fourth among defensemen this past season with 207 blocked shots and ninth with 191 hits.
Any hesitation he might have felt signing with a team that's admittedly in a rebuilding mode -- the Leafs are coming off a last-place finish in the Northeast Division -- was seemingly erased once Komisarek got the pitch from his new boss.
"I was pumped to see Brian Burke
's approach, his vision for the team, having a physical, aggressive team that's tough to play against," Komisarek said. "Being a physical player is my style, and I can use my game to help the team win.
"You want a situation that's going to be a challenge. No one said it was going to be easy. I'm going to bring my work ethic and my attitude. Hopefully we grow as a group."
Born 27 years ago in West Islip, NY, the son of Polish immigrants, Komisarek and his sister were taught from an early age that "nothing was going to be given to you." His mother died a few years ago, but his father, who continues to live and work in the area, was "thrilled by the news," Komisarek said from Long Island, where he spends time during the offseason.
Although the Canadiens finished 12 points ahead of the Leafs last season and earned an Eastern Conference playoff berth, they struggled mightily in the second half and were swept out of the first round by Boston.
Despite that, Komisarek said there was never a point where he thought his time in Montreal may have reached an end.
"It's just the business we're in. Sometimes relationships don't work out," he said, going on to add that he would remember his time with the Canadiens fondly.
"There were so many great relationships built and I met a lot of great people. I can't say enough about the fans -- the passing of my mom a few seasons ago, that was the toughest part of my career. The organization and the fans have been great and I've always appreciated everything they've done for me."
Komisarek had no interest in taking any parting shots at the club, sidestepping a question about the revolving door of players who have come and gone in Montreal over the past 48 hours.
"I'm more concerned about looking forward and the new challenge ahead of me with the Toronto Maple Leafs
," he said.
Predictably, Komisarek was asked about what his emotions might be the first time he takes the ice on the opposite side of the Montreal-Toronto rivalry.
"I'm definitely going to be looking forward to my first game putting on a Maple Leafs uniform," he said. "I'm sure it will be quite the experience when we do play Montreal. I'm sure you guys won't forget the date."