Cross Checks: Mike Commodore

Commodore back in AHL with a mission

December, 9, 2012
12/09/12
2:18
PM ET
NEW YORK -- There is something more circular than arc-like about the path Mike Commodore's career has taken.

Seven years ago, the big defenseman was coming off a trip to the 2004 Stanley Cup finals with the Calgary Flames when coach and GM Darryl Sutter asked him to report to the team’s AHL affiliate in Lowell, Mass., during the last lockout.

Although he didn't expect it at the time, Commodore now says the experience might have been the most important period in his career.

He played 20 minutes a night, got power-play time and killed penalties.

“It was probably one of the best things that ever happened in my career,” Commodore said.

Perhaps more importantly, Commodore’s play caught the eye of Carolina GM Jim Rutherford and his scouts, as the Canes and Flames shared the AHL affiliate in Lowell.

When the lockout that scuttled the 2004-05 season ended in the summer of 2005, the Hurricanes acquired Commodore at the draft, and he became an important part of the team’s Stanley Cup run in that first post-lockout season.

Fast-forward to this fall and Commodore is stationed at another AHL port of call. This time he is in Ontario, where he has signed a 25-game tryout contract with the Hamilton Bulldogs in the hopes that the AHL will once again provide a catalyst to good fortune at the NHL level.

Commodore, who finished last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning and became an unrestricted free agent, was working out with some of the Lightning players in the Tampa area. Some days there would be five skaters, other days there would be a dozen or so.

If he hoped to resume his NHL career, Commodore knew he had to get in more game action and get in front of NHL scouts and GMs, especially with the lockout “taking its familiar route” of seven years ago.

If the season was canceled, “I knew I was going to have a tough time getting a deal next season,” Commodore told ESPN.com. “I just figured there wouldn’t be any interest.”

So Commodore sent a memo out to AHL clubs offering his services, and the Hamilton Bulldogs took him up on his offer, signing him to a 25-game tryout. The tryout allows the club to make use of Commodore’s experience, while he retains the flexibility to sign with an NHL club if the lockout ends in the interim.

If the lockout continues and/or the NHL season is canceled, he could then sign an AHL contract.

So far, Commodore has seen action in two games with the Bulldogs and two weeks’ worth of practices. He has enjoyed his role as a mentor to a young Hamilton blue line, and he hopes that he has shown enough of the toughness and savvy that has seen him play in 484 regular-season games and 53 postseason contests to pique the interest of some NHL teams down the road.

“It went better than I thought it would,” he acknowledged.

The past couple of years have not been kind to the native of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, who turned 33 last month.

After establishing himself as a solid, hard-working defenseman who was a popular presence in the dressing room, Commodore signed a lucrative five-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets worth $18.75 million in 2008-09. But he fell out of favor with former Columbus coach Scott Arniel and ultimately was banished to the team’s AHL affiliate in Springfield, Mass.

On July 1, 2011, shortly after being bought out of his contract by the Blue Jackets, Commodore signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings. Opportunity and ice time didn’t materialize in Detroit, and the Red Wings dealt Commodore to the Lightning at the trade deadline.

He played some, but when the Lightning fell out of the playoff race, his ice time diminished.

“I don’t want to complain. But at the same time, the last two years haven’t really gone in my favor,” he said.

This time around, Commodore is embracing his AHL experience and the doors he hopes that experience may open down the road.

“It’s completely different from Springfield,” he said. “I didn’t feel I should have been there. I wanted nothing to do with it.

“I want to continue my NHL career. This is the perfect place for me.”

What happens next is anyone’s guess, especially with negotiations between owners and players at a delicate stage in New York. But the Bulldogs are the top farm team of the Montreal Canadiens, a team that is in the midst of a major metamorphosis with new GM Marc Bergevin and new head coach Michel Therrien.

It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if Commodore was asked to bring some character and grit to the Habs' locker room if there is an NHL season.

As for the lockout, it strikes Commodore as frustratingly inevitable.

“The fact that it’s come to this, it’s sad is what it is. But am I surprised? Not really,” he said.

Commodore off to the Bolts

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
12:47
PM ET
Mike Commodore from the Detroit Red Wings to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2013. Commodore has played 17 games this season for the Red Wings, averaging 11:30 in ice time.
Every year at this time, the air in NHL cities is full of shimmering dust mites.

The mites are called hope.

Those glittering specks of expectation shine for the likely and the unlikely all the same. They also shine for those players who hope for one last shot at glory or redemption or, heck, just another paycheck.

Here's a look at an eclectic group of "off the scrap heap" players hoping to make an impact this season or at the very least make an NHL roster:

Ray Emery, G, Chicago Blackhawks

As we first reported a couple of weeks back, Emery will get a tryout at the Blackhawks' training camp in September, but it's hard to imagine he won't be in a Hawks jersey when the season opens. The Marty Turco experiment didn't go so well last season for Chicago, and the Hawks need a viable Plan B to help support sophomore Corey Crawford, who was very good for Chicago last season as a rookie. Emery was instrumental in vaulting Anaheim into the playoffs in place of injured Jonas Hiller. There was no room for Emery in Anaheim for the coming season, though, so now he's taking his surgically repaired hip and his rehabilitated reputation to Chicago. Emery led Ottawa to its only Stanley Cup finals berth in 2007 and was 7-2 with a .926 save percentage down the stretch in Anaheim. Agent J.P. Barry told us recently Emery's in terrific shape and completely recovered from the hip issues that threatened to end his career. If the Blackhawks are hoping to bounce back to Cup-contender status after a disappointing post-Cup campaign, they'll need a solid backup for Crawford and there's every reason to believe Emery could be that guy.

Owen Nolan, F, Vancouver Canucks

We have to admit, we were a bit surprised no NHL team bit on Nolan last season when the veteran winger was coming off a 16-goal performance in the 2009-10 season and a 25-goal season in just 59 games for the low-scoring Wild in 2008-09. But here's the rub for the 39-year-old once-elite power forward: durability. Nolan has never played 80 games (or more) in any NHL regular season. Nolan told Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province recently that playing in Switzerland last season actually helped him get fully healthy and rekindled his desire to not just play but win at the NHL level. He will try to catch on with an offensively deep Canucks team that won't have that much turnover from their run to the Stanley Cup finals. But if he can bang some bodies and show he's still got a nose for the net -- and oh yeah, stay out of the sick bay -- there's no reason Nolan shouldn't add some veteran sand to an already annoying Canucks forward contingent.

Todd Fedoruk, F, Vancouver Canucks

Here's another veteran hoping to work his way into the Canucks' lineup after being absent from an NHL roster last season. Tough as nails, the 32-year-old Fedoruk missed all of last year with a knee injury, and his ability to crash and bang on the rehabilitated appendage will speak volumes about his ability to stick with the Canucks. By the end of the finals, the Canucks were banged up and getting pushed around by the Boston Bruins. Fedoruk is the kind of player, if healthy, who could be a boon to the Canucks' third or fourth line, especially with the departure of former Canucks agitator Raffi Torres, who signed with Phoenix.

Jonathan Cheechoo, F, St. Louis Blues

We still shake our heads at the dramatic descent for one of the nice guys in the NHL. The winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy with 56 goals in 2005-06, Cheechoo signed a two-way deal with the Blues in the hopes of rediscovering the goal-scoring touch that made him one of the feel-good stories in the league post-lockout. A native of remote Moose Factory, Ontario, Cheechoo scored just five times in 61 games for Ottawa in 2009-10, his last NHL experience. He did manage 18 goals for San Jose's AHL affiliate in Worcester last season and was inked to a two-way deal with the Blues this summer. It's a low-risk, high-reward kind of deal for GM Doug Armstrong. And frankly, it's difficult to see Cheechoo, 31, cracking the lineup out of camp -- barring significant injuries -- given the Blues' collection of talented young forwards and the additions of Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner in the offseason. What might be more likely is that Cheechoo plays well on the farm and finds himself as an injury replacement, especially if the Blues can stay in the playoff hunt.

Jaromir Jagr, F, Philadelphia Flyers

One of the most interesting offseason acquisitions was the remade Flyers taking a flyer (ha, ha, get it?) on the five-time NHL scoring champ who looked almost certain to head to Pittsburgh or Detroit before making a U-turn and signing a one-year deal with Philadelphia. Expectations will be high for Jagr, who hasn't played an NHL game since the end of the 2008 playoffs, when he was a member of the New York Rangers. He is 39, but defenseman Chris Pronger noted in a conference call this week he thought Jagr could be counted on to chip in 50 to 60 points as the Flyers will be looking to replace significant offensive production with the departures of Jeff Carter, captain Mike Richards and Ville Leino. Jagr had 71 points in his final NHL season, but it will be a major coup for GM Paul Holmgren if Jagr gets to that level this season. The flip side will be if Jagr doesn't have enough left to make a regular contribution and becomes this year's Nikolay Zherdev, a player pulling in a full salary but unable to make an impact on the roster.

Alexei Yashin, F, New York Islanders

We spoke with the former Islanders captain a couple of weeks ago and his situation vis-a-vis a return to the NHL is no clearer today. In fact, the potential for a Yashin return may be even less likely now that the Islanders helped out their pals in New Jersey by acquiring Brian Rolston for Trent Hunter in a move that helped the Devils free enough cap space to sign Zach Parise to a one-year deal. Rolston is 38 and Yashin will turn 38 this fall. Is there room for two graying forwards on an Islanders roster that is (or should be) built on speed and youth? Yashin didn't seem all that worried one way or the other. He feels he can play at the NHL level and is not bothered by the fact the Islanders bought him out of his monster 10-year deal and continue to pay against the cap for him not to play on Long Island. He also isn't considering a return to any other NHL team. Like Jagr, Yashin's skills in his prime were undisputable. The question remains whether enough of those skills remain for the Isles to take a chance on him.

Mike Commodore, D, Detroit Red Wings

We chatted with Commodore moments after he signed a one-year deal with the Wings in early July, and excited didn't quite cover it for the big defenseman who was banished to the AHL last season by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Plagued by injury and expectation after signing a big four-year deal in 2008, Commodore will be asked to come into Detroit and provide good, tough-nosed defense for head coach Mike Babcock. Nothing more, nothing less. A Cup winner in Carolina and a member of a Calgary team that went to the Cup finals in 2004, Commodore should fit in nicely with a talented Detroit team that still has Cup designs in spite of the departure of guys like Brian Rafalski, Chris Osgood, Kris Draper, Chris Chelios and Kirk Maltby over the past couple of seasons.

Sheldon Souray, D, Dallas Stars

Souray is another player who fell afoul of his former team -- in this case the Edmonton Oilers management -- and was exiled to the AHL. Their relationship was so fractured that the Oilers didn't even send Souray to their own AHL team but loaned him to Washington's farm team in Hershey. Souray once upon a time scored 26 goals, and he possesses one of the biggest shots in the game from the blue line. He will be asked to fill a veteran, mentor role in Dallas, where the Stars are getting younger while trying to stay competitive. Souray told us he is physically in great shape and highly motivated to prove that he's still got NHL game left. We're guessing he's right, and if he can stay healthy -- yes, it's a big "if" -- it wouldn't be surprising to see Souray approach the 20-goal mark again as he'll log lots of power-play time for the Stars.

Evgeni Nabokov, G, New York Islanders

Not even Nabokov knows how this is going to play out on Long Island as the longtime San Jose netminder has indicated he'll show up at the Isles' training camp. With Rick DiPietro under contract until the next century or so and Al Montoya under contract for the coming season following an impressive run as the team's starter down the stretch last season, it's hard to know exactly how Nabokov fits in. Nabokov was acquired on waivers last season after Detroit tried to sign the netminder following a failed experiment in the Kontinental Hockey League. Nabokov initially declined to report to the Islanders. He insisted it was all a misunderstanding and seems ready to be a good citizen for the long-suffering Islanders. Now, he will be hoping to get enough opportunities to play so he can drive up his trade value. Assuming that DiPietro stays healthy, always a question mark, there's always the possibility that Nabokov could end up sharing the workload with Montoya. Wouldn't that be more than a little ironic if Nabokov ends up helping the Isles to an unlikely playoff berth? The more likely scenario is that Nabokov goes the way of Dwayne Roloson, trying to stay sharp until GM Garth Snow can find a trading partner and ship the veteran netminder to a team with Cup aspirations.
So, there was Mike Commodore driving in his truck in the beautiful Okanagan area of British Columbia getting ready to fly out of Kelowna when he got a call from his agent, Wade Arnott.

Detroit had offered the veteran defenseman a one-year deal worth $1 million.

Does he want it?

He's got 15 minutes to decide or the Wings will move on.

Commodore, who won a Cup in Carolina in 2006 but was banished to the minors by Columbus last season, pulled his truck over to the side of the road.

He was prepared to be patient, to perhaps wait until August to find a team that might want to give him a chance, and here was an offer on the first afternoon of free agency. And not just an offer, but an offer from one of the most respected teams in the NHL.

"I was like, oh my God," Commodore told ESPN.com Friday night.

He called his dad. His dad wasn't home.

"I was just kind of sitting there in my truck," Commodore said. "It happened fast."

About a minute later, he came up with his answer.

Heck yeah, he's going to Detroit.

"Obviously, it was a no-brainer," said Commodore, who earlier in the day was bought out of the final two years of his contract by the Blue Jackets.

The past two years have been difficult ones for the outgoing Commodore.

The 6-foot-5 defenseman suffered a groin injury and played in only 57 games in the 2009-2010 season . Then last year, he ran afoul of the coaching staff and management in Columbus and was sent to the team's AHL affiliate in Springfield.

"All of a sudden, I'm sitting in Springfield and I'm like, 'what just happened in the last few months?'" Commodore said.

With his time in Columbus at an end, Commodore had to confront the reality that perhaps no one would want him or that his opportunities would be limited at best.

"Fortunately there are still some people that believe in me," he said.

Among them, obviously, is Detroit GM Ken Holland who hopes Commodore will rediscover the kind of play that saw him become an integral part of Carolina's defense by committee during their Cup run in 2006.

"My mindset is that whatever they ask me to do, I'll do," Commodore said.

"Obviously it's exciting. It's a very unexpected surprise. A very unexpected, pleasant surprise."
Thursday was a parting of the ways for two rugged defensemen and their teams as Sheldon Souray was placed on waivers by the Edmonton Oilers and Mike Commodore was likewise placed on waivers by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Oilers will buy out the remaining $4.5 million of Souray's contract. If Commodore clears waivers by noon ET Friday, the Blue Jackets will also buy out the remaining two years on Commodore's deal. He was due $6.85 million over the last two years of a five-year deal he signed with Columbus prior to the 2008-09 season.

In both cases, the teams have to bear as much responsibility for having arrived at this rather unpalatable solution of paying money to make players go away. Both teams overpaid for defensive assets because, frankly, that is how life is in markets like Edmonton and Columbus.

That the organizations became disenchanted with both players is no doubt the fault of both player and team, but the fact both were banished to the AHL suggests some significant problems in terms of how those teams handle their players.

Yes, Souray mouthed off about the Oilers last offseason, breaking one of the cardinal rules. But the big man with the big shot indicated before training camp last year he was ready to make the best of the situation. Instead, the Oilers banished him not only to the AHL but to Washington's farm team, refusing to have him in contact with their own prospects.

Shortsighted?

The Oilers were again the worst team in the NHL and got no value for Souray.

How is that good for the team?

Was there not a better way for the team to have seen this play out no matter how annoyed it was with Souray?

Commodore, meanwhile, was sent to the Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate in Springfield after playing 20 games in Columbus, and the Blue Jackets missed the playoffs again.

A Cup winner in Carolina, Commodore was never able to fulfill the expectations his contract produced.

General manager Scott Howson already had to explain at last week's draft in Minnesota why he'd just traded former sixth overall pick Nikita Filatov to Ottawa for the 66th pick. Not a good tradeoff, he acknowledged. Now he will pay more money against the cap for a defenseman he signed and now can't stand to have around.

Those are the kinds of significant personnel errors that go a long way to illustrating why this team has yet to win a playoff game.

Speaking of credibility, the Oilers haven't done themselves any favors either in recent days as they first tried to trade an unfit Gilbert Brule to Los Angeles for Ryan Smyth and then moved Colin Fraser, who has an unhealed leg injury and won't be available to the Kings for months, according to the Los Angeles Times.

It was clear at the draft that L.A. GM Dean Lombardi wasn't pleased with how the Smyth deal was going down, and this episode will do little to enhance the Oilers' reputation around the league.

As for Souray and Commodore, both are big bodies whose reputations have taken serious hits. They aren't particularly fast, but, for a dramatically reduced price tag and reduced expectations, is there any reason both shouldn't find an NHL home and a chance to redeem themselves?

We're guessing the motivation factor will be enough to ensure that teams taking a chance on either will get full value for their investment. Unlike the Oilers and Blue Jackets.

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