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Uncle Leo, Goodbye: Komarov clears waivers, officially leaves for KHL

Cantankerous checker leaves behind some money and good memories.

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New York Islanders v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Seven Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

Leo Komarov is an agitator. Whether it was driving opposing players like Brad Marchand or Alex Ovechkin crazy on the ice, chirping teammates across the locker room, or leaving fans scratching their heads at his deployment, like The Joker, “Uncle Leo” is a true agent of chaos.

He is now also an ex-Islander, having cleared waivers for the termination of his contract and signing with SKA in the KHL. He left a lovely heartfelt message on both his Instagram and Twitter accounts, saying goodbye to the team he’s called home for the last four years and the GM who brought him in.

In The Athletic this evening, Arthur Staple sheds a little more light on Komarov’s difficult decision to leave Long Island.

The “why” of his departure was, according to a source close to Komarov, all about his decision: The Islanders waived Komarov on Oct. 18 when Matt Martin was healthy and Komarov, rather than report directly to Bridgeport of the AHL, was skating on his own at Northwell Health Ice Center for several weeks. Lou Lamoriello said last week that Komarov would report to Bridgeport soon, but there were no guarantees of playing time — the AHL Islanders have more than the six NHL veterans permitted to dress in an AHL game, so there’s been some rotating among guys with a bit of name recognition.

So, Komarov pursued a deal closer to his home in Helsinki mostly because he wanted to play, even if it meant forfeiting roughly $1.6-million in remaining salary on his Islanders contract. Lamoriello did not push Komarov out the door; on the contrary, according to the source, Lamoriello called Komarov while Leo was awaiting his flight to Helsinki to ask Komarov to reconsider.

The title of the article is “Will the Islanders miss Leo Komarov,” and before you scoff at that idea based on his on-ice production, it might be something to consider in terms of locker room chemistry. Komarov is definitely a character, and was strategically signed by Lou Lamoriello (for far too much dough) to bring a balance of work ethic and fun to what would be a team in flux after the departure of a certain former captain who shall remain unnamed. With big goofball Johnny Boychuk also out of the picture even before his paper transaction trade to Buffalo, the Islanders room has undergone a bit of upheaval this early in the season (that has nothing to do with that room moving to UBS Arena shortly).

Barry Trotz was asked about Komarov right off the bat at today’s post-practice presser, and he sure sounded like a guy who was saying a tough goodbye to a trusted colleague and friend.

“He was one of those guys who pulled you into the fight as a player,” Trotz said. “One of those guys on the ice who could get people off their game. A big part of the identity (of our team). You talk about chemistry and culture, people that show up every day at work and bring a smile to your face. I’d love to be a player on a team with Leo Komarov. He keeps you laughing — just being Leo, Uncle Leo, that’s what made him special.”

I won’t pretend like it was all fun and games with Uncle Leo. The contract, the poorly-timed penalties, the just-barely-missed scoring opportunities, the top line usage throughout the playoffs reminding you that Anders Lee was hurt, the visor constantly sitting at a 62 degree angle because he had the misfortunate of joining the NHL after he could be grandfathered into not having to wear a visor at all. All that and more could and often did cast a shadow over his 48 points in 161 regular season games as an Islander, plus eight points across 44 playoff games.

There’s also the matter of his $1.6 million in salary and $3 million cap hit coming off the books for the Islanders, which could help them in a big way come deadline time (or even before). Lamoriello has shed $14.5 million in cap between the Boychuk trade, Andrew Ladd trade and now Komarov’s departure. That’s a pretty significant turnaround for a team that looked to be in minor cap hell not long ago.

But there’s a good argument that they don’t experience those 44 playoff games without Komarov. The love between he and his teammates (and even some ex-teammates) was real and it will be worth monitoring if and how his absence affects them going forward.

Vaya con dios, Uncle Leo. You’re a one-of-a-kind and we’ll see you at the first Alumni Night game at UBS Arena after you retire.