Mike Komisarek was only "one hit away from completely blowing his shoulder up," according to Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, who said the defenceman's decision to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery was made in the best interests of the NHL team.
The 28-year-old is scheduled to have the operation next week in Alabama, at the hands of renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews. Komisarek had been trying to rehabilitate his right shoulder with the hope of playing for the U.S. at the Vancouver Olympics later this month, but withdrew from the Games when he made his decision Wednesday.
"It's definitely devastating not being there and contributing," Komisarek said. "You want to do what's best for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but also for that team, as well. Knowing that I wasn't 100 per cent — I'd done all these tests and I knew my strength wasn't where it had to be — I'm not doing any good if I go there and get hurt."
Wilson, who is also the U.S. Olympic coach, agreed.
"You play one shift in the Olympics and you're out, and that would hurt the Olympic team," Wilson said. "It would hurt the Leafs if he comes back this week and does the same with us. He knew surgery was inevitable."
And that surgery is expected to keep Komisarek on the sidelines for up to six months. He has not played since Jan. 2, when he injured his already-tender shoulder in a game against the Calgary Flames.
He said he dislocated his right shoulder last season, when he was playing with the Montreal Canadiens. And while he passed his physical after signing as an unrestricted free agent with the Leafs last summer, he still seemed haunted by the weakened shoulder.
While he did his best to skirt the specifics of his latest injury in a scrum with reporters on Thursday, it is believed Komisarek is dealing with a torn labrum. He is scheduled to fly to the clinic in Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday, with the operation scheduled for Wednesday.
Leafs general manager Brian Burke said the team was aware of the risks with the shoulder when it signed Komisarek. Burke said he had no regrets about the deal, a five-year contract worth $22.5 million US.
"It's almost like a car," Burke said. "At some point, that car's going to break down. You might be able to drive another 90 miles before that tire gives out or that water pump goes, but when it goes, it goes, and you've got to fix it."
Komisarek has already spoken with Leafs forward Phil Kessel, who returned to play this year after shoulder surgery.
"You're nervous, right?" Kessel said. "It's not like a little surgery. It's your shoulder. It's part of your life. He plays a really rough game out there, he likes to be physical. He needs it."
Injuries have become a recurring theme over the last couple of seasons for Komisarek, who had still managed to play in more than 70 games in three of his first four full seasons in the NHL.
He missed a handful of games with a leg injury earlier this season, after missing more than a dozen games with the shoulder injury last season.
His absence will be another blow for the U.S. Olympic team, which learned Monday that it would be without the services of veteran New Jersey defenceman Paul Martin, who is sidelined with a broken forearm. Martin has been out since October.
Ryan Whitney, of the Anaheim Ducks, and Tim Gleason, of the Carolina Hurricanes, were named as U.S. Olympic team replacements Thursday.
"Obviously, having a chance to represent your country in the Olympics is a huge honour, and you want to be a part of that," Komisarek said. "But I knew that it wouldn't be fair to go to play in the Olympics, and then have to shut my season down after I come back from Vancouver."
Komisarek collected four assists in the 34 games he played before the injury, along with 40 minutes in penalties. He was also a minus-nine.