The Islanders Look To “Uncle Leo” For Leadership And Intangibles

Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire

When Islanders fans take to social media to discuss their favorite team, there are certainly a number of topics that are lightning rods for conversation.  One of those subjects is veteran forward Leo Komarov who continues to be a trusted soldier for Head Coach Barry Trotz. Whether it’s putting Komarov in the lineup to try and light a fire or if he needs to plug a hole for an injured player like currently on the fourth line for Cal Clutterbuck, Trotz looks to the 34-year-old to be a stabilizing force both on the ice and in the locker room.

There are times when Islanders fans can’t figure out why Komarov is in the lineup over other players, but Trotz has the trust in “Uncle Leo” to be part of a winning formula.

“I didn’t know much about Leo,” said Trotz who was hired as Islanders Head Coach before the 2018-19 season, which was also Komarov’s first season as an Islander.

“I’ve watched other coaches who have had Leo and the same use of him being that he can play multiple positions which is very helpful.  He’s a very good penalty killer.  He’s really good in tight situations and tight games.  He’s very dependable and he’s got a little bit of an edge.”

Because of that edge, Komarov has filled in nicely on the fourth line with Clutterbuck out because of an undisclosed injury.  Although Komarov is a left-handed shot as opposed to Clutterbuck being a right-handed shot, he still brings the same type of game to the ice.  Having a player that can fill that void, as well as other roles when needed, is so valuable to a team, especially in an unusual 56 game season being played entirely within your own division.

“He is a really good fit,” said Trotz.  “He plays an aggressive game and he doesn’t mind getting involved physically and getting opponents agitated at him.”

“He plays a similar game as well,” said fourth line forward Matt Martin when comparing Komarov to Clutterbuck. “It’s kind of next man up mentality.  Injuries are part of sports.  You just gotta move forward and find a way to win games with whoever is in the lineup.”

In Leo Komarov, The Islanders Have A Versatile Veteran Forward That Can Fill Multiple Roles: 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Komarov, who is in the third year of a four-year contract with the Islanders, can easily plug a hole on the fourth line.  Prior to this season, Komarov totaled 1,486 hits since joining the National Hockey League in 2012.  That’s 9th best among NHL forwards during that time span.

UNIONDALE, NY – FEBRUARY 13: New York Islanders Center Jean-Gabriel Pageau (44) reacts to scoring a goal and is congratulated by New York Islanders Right Wing Leo Komarov (47) during the third period of the National Hockey League game between the Boston Bruins and the New York Islanders on February 13, 2021, at the Nassau Veterans Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

But whether it’s the fourth line, the third line, or on the penalty kill, Komarov brings hit grit and character to whatever role the Islanders need him to help with.

“I’m just being myself,” said Komarov during the playoff series against the Flyers last season.  “Being on this team with all these guys you can be yourself and just enjoy it.  I’m just trying to have fun just play hard.”

Komarov, now in his 14th NHL campaign, has played in twelve games so far this season and has just two assists with both coming in a 4-2 win over the Bruins on February 13th.  But Komarov is not in the lineup for offensive production.   He brings a lot of leadership to the table and he has a unique ability to be able to not only frustrate opposing players but he also has a way of pushing his teammates, especially at times when things aren’t going so well.

Komarov, a native of Narva, Estonia, is able to do this even if the words don’t come out the right way.

“He has an ability to wiggle his way under people’s skin,” said Trotz.  “I don’t know how he does it.  We don’t understand how he does it.  We don’t understand Leo half the time.  He is one of those guys in the locker room that is an intangible.  Every day there is a smile on his face.  He’s a true pro.  Sometimes, it’s not always pretty on the eyes.”

Islanders Fans Want To See Leo Komarov Produce, But His Contributions Are Not Always With Numbers: 

And to a lot of Islanders fans who simply look at the stats but don’t realize the maybe not so noticeable things that Komarov provides to the team, there is always a cry for someone else to get a chance to play.

“How is Komarov playing but not Bellows?”

 “They should give Czarnik another chance or maybe call up Koivula from Bridgeport”

 “Why does Uncle Leo keep getting chances but they won’t give Ho-Sang another try?”

PITTSBURGH, PA – FEBRUARY 20: New York Islanders right wing Leo Komarov (47) skates before the third period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders on February 20, 2021, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

When you have a Hall of Fame General Manager like Lou Lamoriello in charge and a Stanley Cup winning Head Coach in Trotz behind the bench, you have to trust their experience and expertise.  You can’t have twenty all-stars (although Komarov was an NHL all-star in 2016) on a team for a number of reasons, so you have to have some players who can offer a little something different.  It’s not always about a player’s individual stats.

Sometimes, a player is in there to help other players succeed and help the team win.  And Komarov does know how to win a championship as he was part of a Dynamo Moscow club that won the KHL’s Gagarin Cup in 2011-12.

“When guys aren’t going well, Leo is a great fix sometimes because he forces you to get your nose dirty a little bit sometimes when you’re not productive because you’re not getting your nose dirty,” said Trotz.  “Those are the intangibles.  Sometimes the numbers are not necessarily with all the fancy stats.  He does other things that bring people to help their fancy stats.”

Fans are going to have their feelings on a particular player and that is certainly the case with Komarov.  In some cases, there’s probably not anything that Barry Trotz or another Islanders player could say about Uncle Leo or anybody covering the team could write about Komarov that would change a fan’s opinion.

But know this…there are times when you have to look past a player’s stats or how a player looks on the ice.

The Islanders coaches and players love Leo Komarov because there are small things, intangibles if you will, that have helped the Islanders to the success that they’ve had over the last couple of years.   Players like Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, JG Pageau and now even Oliver Wahlstrom will lift fans out of their seats with excitement and there’s no denying that.

But a team is a family and an important part of the Islanders family is “Uncle Leo”.

About the Author

Peter Schwartz

Peter Schwartz is a contributor covering the Islanders for NY Sports Day while also writing about general sports in the New York/New Jersey area. In addition to his column, Peter also hosts his “Schwartz On Sports” podcast as he interviews players, coaches, and other sports personalities. He is also currently a sports anchor for WFAN Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and WCBS 880 radio while also serving as the public address announcer for the New York Cosmos soccer club.

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