In hindsight I am now looking to the Roman Polak trade with
a sense of satisfaction. Sure, the Leafs gave up a far better defenseman in
order to acquire a right handed shot. Sure, it doesn’t matter which hand Polak
uses because you don’t want to see him handling the puck, and sure it seems
somewhat foolish that the Leafs retained a portion of Gunnarsson’s salary and
threw in a 4th round pick in order to get the deal completed, but it doesn’t
change the fact that there was a silver lining. This deal was likely the
beginning of the end of the Nonis regime.
Now, none of that actually has anything to do with Roman
Polak the hockey player, except for the fact he shoots right and is a below
average puck handler. With Polak that old guard Leafs management team landed
what they covet most, a stay at home defenseman who will block shots, kill
penalties, and get the puck to the line but not out. Sure he’s an upgrade on
Mark Fraser, Tim Gleason, and Ryan O’Byrne, but it doesn’t change the fact that
the Leafs have continually sought out the absolute wrong type of player
compared to what they actually need.
So, it doesn’t look like Polak is coming in and fixing that
whole pesky “get ridiculously outshot” problem the Leafs had last season.
Instead he’s more of a guy who celebrates being away from the puck. Last season
Polak led Blues defenseman in hits (151) and blocked shots (131), both numbers
are actually lower than what Gunnarsson had in case you wanted to reflect on
how insane real time stats are.
Polak averaged 17:20 TOI/G last year, which made him the 5th
used defenseman (his average TOI would have placed him 7th on the
Leafs D behind Paul Ranger). He was virtually tied for the lead in short handed
time on ice with Barrett Jackman (2:17 SHTOI/G) and saw a grand total of 58
seconds of powerplay time over the course of the season, which isn’t out of
line with what you’d expect for a guy with 13 points on the season. It’s also
worth noting that the 28 year old has seen his average ice time decline every
year since he was a 22 year old playing over 21 minutes a night.
A couple of other things that are worth noting, compared to
last year’s Leafs Polak was on ice for a relatively low number of events and
with a Corsi Rel of -5.2 it seems to be reasonable to have doubts about him
handling an increased workload well.
Also, Roman Polak’s most frequent defensive partners were
Jordan Leopold, Ian Cole and Barrett Jackman, so you can assume he was fairly
sheltered as he rarely saw time with Pietrangelo or Bouwmeester, but at least
had perceived value in his own zone compared to guys like Cole or Shattenkirk.
Those Lapierre and Reaves numbers have me terrified for if Polak is ever on the ice at the same time as Colton Orr.
Where Roman Polak fits into the Leafs lineup I can’t even
begin to fathom. What we know for sure is that the Gardiner/Franson pairing
left a lot to be desired, so potentially Polak will be the stay at home anchor
attached to Jake. It certainly seems like a stretch to pair Polak with Phaneuf,
but it seems equally ridiculous to put Franson or Robidas in that top pairing
too. Realistically it’s going to Polak paired with Rielly or Gardiner, with my
preference probably being Gardiner.
It’s also a question if Polak can hold his job for the
season when the Marlies should be able to produce at least a couple of players
capable of challenging for bottom pairing minutes on the Leafs. If Nilsson,
Granberg, or Percy are capable of stepping up we could see Polak on the outside
If we’re shifting gears to things to be optimistic about
with Polak we can point to the fact that he’s a physical presence on the ice to
offset the smaller, speedy defensemen like Rielly, and Gardiner. He’s a Ken
Hitchcock penalty killer, so as long as he doesn’t unlearn what he did in St.
Louis he should help control rebounds and know how to move the puck away from
the front of the net.
For all the criticisms of Polak, he’ll likely be the fastest
option the Leafs have on the right side compared to the surgically
reconstructed Stephane Robidas, and the terminally slow Cody Franson (now with
100% more knee problems!) and that might be enough to find modest value in him.
He’s a level 80 Paladin.
For fantasy advice, head on over to DailyFaceoff.com, and make sure to check out their 2014-15 Fantasy Hockey Draft Kit. The draft kit is free and has over 100 pages of projections and analysis, so if you have a draft or two coming up this week, you’ll definitely want to give it a read.
At least he doesn’t like David Clarkson.