Where have you gone, Mike Comrie?

Pop-culture casualty or patient free agent?

I had quite the surreal hockey fan moment watching TV with Mrs. Lighthouse the other night, as E! News or Bravo Banality or whatever came on whatever network after whatever food/runway/contrived contest show had completed: They were blabbing on about celebrities the way they do, when ex-Islander Mike Comrie appeared on the screen. Or, to use their words, "hockey star" Mike Comrie appeared. It seems he has married someone we are all supposed to care about.

Now despite my best efforts at carefully maintained ignorance, I'm not going to pretend to be 100% oblivious to pop culture's most vacuous side: Though I wish I didn't, I knew Comrie was with some Hilary Duff gal, and I'm aware she's one of: singer/actress/Disney girl/American Idol runner-up/Shore of Ill Repute graduate -- or perhaps she fits multiple categories in that open pond of cultural runoff from which today's celebrities emerge to show us how famous you can be when you're famous. I was also generally aware they had marriage on the mind. But to be awoken from my brain-numbed stupor with a mention of "hockey star Mike Comrie" in the middle of other Essential News like Paris Hilton's latest tweet was, to be sure, shocking.

And it got me thinking: Wait, Comrie doesn't even have a contract for 2010-11, does he? Indeed, approaching age 30, the two-time 30-goal scorer is still without a team. I hardly find that to be an injustice, but it is a little surprising and has me thinking back to how far he has fallen during his very strange hockey career.

Apparently Comrie was a serviceable player last season as far as serviceable players on last-place teams go (We'll cut him slack for the lengthy bout with mono, the delayed diagnosis and experience of which would sap even the Selkey-ist example of grit and determination). In other words, he wasn't the chief cause of the Oilers' descent, although -- stop me if you've experienced this before -- the fact he was projected to be a go-to player is in itself an indictment of the team.

Worse, injuries and maladies held him to just 43 games, in which he at least put up about a half point per game. Sounds like the Comrie we knew as an Islander -- not the best forward, but good enough for 21 goals and 49 points one year, and a season halved by injuries the next.

Of course, the Oilers had him at the quite-reasonable salary of $1.25 million -- a far cry from the prove-you're-a-top-two-center price of $3.375 - $4 million the Isles gave him in the 2007-08 and 08-09 seasons.

Fame and Narrative Aside: A Free Agent Bargain Awaits?

So to reset, here's the Mike Comrie story as it hits age 30 (in September), fresh off a much-gossiped-about marriage to Someone Who Is Important For Reasons Only 21st-Century Western Civilization Can Explain:

  • Hometown boy, who jumped from U. of Michigan before his junior year to join a WHL club at age 20 and thread a CBA loophole that allowed him to command way above the typical rookie max.
  • Left that WHL club mid-season for the Oilers once said loophole leverage was consummated.
  • Was given great linemates and soft minutes his first full NHL year, enabling the first of two 30-goal, 60-point seasons he'd have in the NHL.
  • Saw the hometown love disappear as he held out (again, by one definition) for 30 games to force a trade away from Edmonton during the final pre-lockout season.
  • Upon that trade, signed with Philadelphia and was flipped just 21 games into his Flyers career -- small forward in the big pre-lockout East alert! -- to Phoenix, where in the first post-lockout season he compiled his second 30-goal/60-point season in relative obscurity.
  • Was flipped again by Phoenix to Ottawa, where he played through injury to serve a well-regarded (but not offensively productive) role as a third-line winger during the Sens' run to the finals.
  • Signed with the Islanders -- a team not commanding high-profile free agents -- in a mutual back-scratching arrangement that paid him like a top-two center for one year in exchange for him giving his best effort to show he was, in fact, a top-two center.
  • Re-signed with the Islanders for a year, then became one of the rumbled malcontents in Scott Gordon's first year and was shipped as excess baggage with Chris Campoli in exchange for a late 1st and pending UFA Dean MacAmmond. (It was during this period that I lost all remnant patience for his roller league toe-drag move.)
  • Found a new home at home with the Oilers, before an awful run of luck hit in the form of the three-month bout with mono.

I bring all this up not because I particularly care about the former Islander (nor his wife, though I'm sure she's a lovely gal and all that). But talent- and bargaining power-wise, he is an interesting free agent -- and at an interesting time of his life: Marriage, young love, fame (or evading fame whenever possible thanks to the celeb photographers who stop at nothing to feed this dastardly monkey) -- those are pivotal points in life.

Yet age 30 is a pivotal time in a pro hockey player's career, too. I wouldn't think Comrie could command much right now on the open market, but take the mono out of his stats last year and you'd think he'd be a useful player at the right price for a lot of teams. He certainly knows how to play hockey and can do so at the NHL level. Unless he himself is wed to a more important role -- a role no team would likely give him right now, and one at which he's never really excelled -- he could be a bargain for a team needing some forward depth.

So is the hold up that teams aren't interested? Scared off by the image of Hollywood jet-setting instead of off-season training? Or is that he's not interested in a small role at what probably feels (to him) like a bargain price? Or maybe since he knows he can't command much above league average, he's just going to wait for the right team and pick his spot -- and in the meantime enjoy the glitz of being Mr. Duff?

I don't know, it seems like one of the 2010 free agency's more interesting remaining cases. But I've probably already spent too much time thinking about it. Damn you, E! News. Now my retinas have been violated by an image of what Snooki looks like, too.

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