A Tribute to Uncle Leo

Is there a player in the NHL as fascinating as Leo Komarov? Born in Estonia and raised in Finland by Russian parents, Komarov speaks Russian, Swedish, Finnish and English fluently. He’s also pretty comfortable on a piano.

But more than those things, Komarov is a pretty effective hockey player.

Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 6th round on the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (180th overall) by then-GM John Ferguson Jr., Komarov spent the next 6 seasons playing in the SM-liiga and the KHL, developing a reputation as a super-pest who could also put the puck in the net.

In 2012-13, Leo made his much-anticipated debut in North America, signing a one-year contract and playing in 14 games for the Toronto Marlies and 42 games with the Maple Leafs in the lockout-shortened season. Leo notched 4 goals and 5 assists and brought his patented rugged, physical style of play that simultaneously won over the hearts of Leafs Nation and frustrated opponents and rival fans alike.

Leo had arrived.

Alas, and to the dismay of many in Leafs Nation, in the following season Leo would return to Russia to play for the Moscow Dynamo due to the inability of him and GM Brian Burke to reach an contract agreement.

“I won’t hide it — I’ve held negotiations with Dynamo, but I’m waiting for an offer from Toronto.” – Leo, summer 2013.

That offer never came. At least not one that was close to financially lucrative enough for him to consider sticking around. It wasn’t JUST about the money, though. Komarov had his sights set on competing in the 2014 Olympics for team Finland, and figured he would get a better opportunity to showcase his abilities in the KHL with a larger role on the ice. The decision paid off, and Leo was an integral part of the bronze-winning squad, despite being held off the scoreboard in the tournament.

See, that’s the thing with Leo Komarov. Offense is part of his game, no doubt, but he brings so much more than that. Things that often can’t be charted or measured.

See, that’s the thing with Leo Komarov. Offense is part of his game, no doubt, but he brings so much more than that. Things that often can’t be charted or measured. He gets the opposition off their game. He gets them focused on him. He baits them, and then disengages with a classic “what did I do?” expression that brings many players to a boiling point.

It was the intangible qualities that Leo brings to the ice that had many in Leafs Nation holding out hope for Leo’s return to North America.

They would not be disappointed, with Komarov signing a 4 year deal with the Maple Leafs at $2.9m per season in the summer of 2014.

The reaction to the deal by the Toronto media and blogosphere was mixed. Many looked at the deal as being too much cheddar for a player who hadn’t proven he could score consistently at the NHL level. Many of us loved the deal though, knowing that 4 years of Uncle Leo could only lead to positive things for a roster that was clearly in transition and in need of the qualities only players like Leo Komarov can bring.

It didn’t take long for the tide of public opinion to sway in favour of Komarov. With 8 goals and 26 points in 62 games, and more of the super-pest style of play that he brought in 2012-13, Leafs Nation had officially caught the Leo-fever.

Fast-forward one calendar year and here we are. It’s All-Star Weekend, and Leo Komarov is (deservedly) in the spotlight.

An increased on-ice role from Head Coach Mike Babcock has led to an offensive-breakout for Leo this season, with 15 goals and 31 points in 48 games; good for 1st on the team in goals and points. Leo also sports a tidy 52% Corsi For at 5v5, and a +3.07 Relative Corsi For % (if you’re into that stuff).

In a world where players like Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner inspire endless debate among Leaf fans and pundits, Leo Komarov just might be the one player we can all agree on right now.

In a season a relatively few positives (Marlies aside), Leo has given us all something to feel good about.

Leafs Hub would like to congratulate Leo Komarov on being named a 2016 NHL All-Star, and wish him the best of luck going forward with our beloved Maple Leafs. Congrats, Uncle Leo. You deserve it. 


 

Here are some of our favourite Uncle Leo moments (in no particular order):

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