I think right now, pretty much everyone expects Mike Komisarek to leave the Habs next week. I'm not sure, though, why everybody's so convinced he's gone. He's never said anything about not wanting to stay in Montreal, or about wanting to test the free agent market on July 1. On the contrary, he's only ever said how much he enjoys Montreal and how good the team and the city have been to him over the years.
So, when you look at the reasons people give for why they think Komo's gone, there's nothing certain among them. Some people say it's his body language when interviewed close to the end of the season, and how he didn't say he'd definitely stay in Montreal after his contract ended. I know people want assurances and absolutes from players, but in this case, I don't fault Komisarek for hedging. He knew he was having a rotten season, and he knew his agent still had a deal to negotiate with Gainey. In that situation, he'd look pretty dumb if he tipped his hand. Say he tells the reporter "Oh, yeah, Montreal's great and I really want to stay here?" Immediately you hand the team ammunition in negotiations and Gainey starts pushing a hometown discount. Then, if the deal falls through for some reason, and he ends up somewhere else, he has to wear the hypocrite label for the rest of his career. Or, worse from a pride point of view, imagine he says "Montreal is my team, and I'm here to stay," only to find out Gainey intends to let him go on July 1? A smart negotiator hedges and keeps his intentions to himself until the deal is settled. I think Mike Komisarek is no dummy.
Others say Komisarek wants six million dollars a year, and that's why he won't be back in Montreal. Well, sure, I want six million dollars a year too. Who doesn't? But the only "evidence" I've seen that Komisarek or his agent have put that number on the table is from that infamous Russian newspaper article that also claimed Kovalev had agreed to a one-year deal between 6-7.5 million and was going to be handed the team captaincy. Right. That was just filled with truth, wasn't it?
Here's what I see happening: Gainey, like the other 28 GMs in the league (I don't count Brian Lawton because he's obviously just a puppet of Koules and Barrie, with less power than a 20- watt bulb), is waiting for the salary cap number to be released. He's also aware there's a lot of wheeling and dealing in the works for the weekend. In order to be ready to field unexpected opportunities, the GMs are waiting until after the draft to make their decisions about re-signings. That's not to say they haven't laid any groundwork. I believe they have their priorities set, barring unforeseen circumstances, and they've already had some preliminary talks with agents. Gainey has indicated that Komisarek is a priority for the Habs, so I have to think the interest in retaining Komo is there on the Canadiens side.
In that case, one of two things could happen to derail a deal. One: Komisarek is really turned off of Montreal and any deal Gainey offers won't be enough. And two: the money offered by Montreal won't match the number Komisarek believes he's worth.
I'm not sure about number one. Unless something truly awful happened in the dressing room this year of which we're not aware, it seems Komisarek has always liked Montreal. He goes back and forth from his summer home in New York to attend events in the off-season. And he's always spoken positively about the lifestyle in Montreal. I also see him as the kind of person who thinks loyalty is important. So, assuming last year hasn't poisoned him on the city and the team generally, I don't see him disliking Montreal enough to walk away at any cost.
That leaves number two. Bob Gainey has a number in head head that he thinks Komisarek is worth. Komisarek's got one too. Assuming Gainey's willing to give a little extra when he takes into account the interest of other teams in Komo's services and the general requirement to overpay for free agents, and Komisarek's willing to take a little less out of loyalty, you'd have to hope the numbers aren't as far apart as we might think. I don't support the idea that Komisarek is worth more than 4-5 million dollars a year. However, if the two sides are only a little apart, and it would require a few hundred thousand dollars to bridge the gap, I think it's probably wiser for Gainey to bend.
I look at it this way: If the Canadiens didn't have Komisarek in the last couple of years, the defence would have been made up of various combinations of Markov, Gorges, Hamrlik, O'Byrne, Dandenault, Bouillon, Streit and Brisebois. Under those circumstances, I think we'd all be screaming for Gainey to go out and hire a free agent defenceman with size, grit and the ability to hit people hard. If Komisarek belonged to, let's say, the Rangers, we'd be looking at him with a lot more charity than we are right now. I think in that case, nobody would balk at paying Komisarek a Hamrlik-like salary to acquire him.
You can also look at it this way: if Komisarek walks, who takes his place? Will it be another case like that of Mark Streit last year, where the Habs let him go and then had to trade draft picks later in the season to fill the hole he left? The Canadiens don't have anyone else like Komisarek, either in the NHL or in the farm system. And I don't really see anyone who brings what he does on the open market this summer. I know he can't score to save his life, and his play without Markov can be very iffy. But I also know he was injured this season, which affected his game. A healthy Komisarek is important in Montreal, and if he walks it will make next season much, much more difficult.
That's why I think Gainey will work something out with Komisarek. And while we won't necessarily like the price, I think we have to accept that you have to pay for free agents, even your own. And sometimes the monetary cost is less than the cost of losing the player.