Leafs Sign Roman Polak To One-Year Deal

I can’t  believe I’m typing this, but this afternoon it was announced that the Toronto Maple Leafs have signed (re-signed?) unrestricted free agent defenseman Roman Polak.

Honestly, I’m actually relieved about all this. The Leafs signing Polak means they almost assuredly won’t be signing Kris Russell.

So beyond that, what’s the logic?

Well, the Leafs were clearly in pursuit of a player capable of playing in their top four. The team’s pursuit of Russell suggests as much. And honestly, Polak probably does play in the team’s top four this year. Why?

Because he checks off another box for the Leafs: he’s a right-handed shot.

The Leafs now have Rielly, Gardiner, Hunwick, and Marincin as lefties, and Polak, Carrick, Corrado, and Zaitsev as righties. You can argue any one of those righties would be a better option to be playing big minutes for the Leafs (and you’d probably be right), but knowing what you know about the way management views those other players, what do you think is the likeliest outcome?

Another box Polak checks off for the Leafs is toughness. The team clearly wanted to get tougher, and we saw that yesterday with the signing of Matt Martin. Today’s move furthers that. The Leafs now have a team consisting of players like Van Riemsdyk, Kadri, Komarov, Martin, Laich, Marincin, and Polak – all of whom can be considered tough to varying extents. So, Mike Babcock should be satisfied with that.

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Polak is of course also a character guy, loaded with intangibles, rah rah, whatever buzzwords you want to fill in. That’s another check mark.

And he gives them a known quantity. Better than the devil you know than the devil you don’t likely comes into play here. If you’re not going to sign Russell and are looking at your other options, such as perhaps Dennis Seidenberg or Matt Bartkowski, why not just go with the guy that you know is a sure thing? (I use “sure thing” in relative terms).

And of course, Polak offers flexibility as well. Do you like Polak as a player? Not really? Well, it’s a good thing it’s only a one-year deal then. So, Polak offers no long-term danger the team, unlike perhaps Matt Martin and his four-year deal.

So how should you feel about this? Again, I’d say be relieved. The team’s desire to bring in a player such as Polak is questionable, though in my mind given the state of the team it doesn’t matter too much either way. I mean hell, if the Leafs end up bad again next year, maybe better to have Polak than a guy like James Wisniewski, where the upside is higher, and thus the tanking possibilities dimmer. But really, mainly, you should be relieved the team isn’t signing Kris Russell to a long-term deal. That would’ve been far more harmful.

Basically, my feelings on Polak are this: could be better, could be worse. I question the player, but I can rest easy knowing Russell isn’t going to be a thing.

  • wallcrawler

    No problem with this at all. 1 year deal. Protect the younger guys and he can possibly be traded at the deadline for pics, or let go at the end of
    The season. I like it

    • Jeremy Ian

      It’s an ok signing. Gives Babcock options, no long term commitment, will be flipped for a pick.

      True, it does remove a worse decision.

      The intrigue is more what’s going to happen with the hoard of prospects. To me, the main cost of signing Polak is one of the young righties has to wait it out. I think Corrado gets back-seated again. My guess is he’ll be traded before the season starts. The team’s banking on Dermott, Neilson, Deroscher, Loov and Valiev for the future.

      All of which points to more trading this summer.

      There are some hot defensemen coming in next year’s draft. Timothy Liljegren (6-0, 190) of Rogle (Sweden) and Urho Vaakanainen (6-1, 187) of JYP (Finland). Adam Foote’s son….

  • Will Murray

    Not as onerous as the Martin signing, but shows why these things shouldn’t be viewed in a vacuum. Issue is never a questionable move on its own, but when they start adding up. It’s far from the end of the world, and relatively insignificant, but it’s an unnecessary move given the Leafs have more than enough depth in their bottom pairing on defense.

    • Gary Empey

      The Leafs do not have enough depth in their bottom pairing at all. That is the very reason Polak is back. Either that or Babcock doesn’t know how to coach. He had him for a year played him 20/22 minutes a game. Polak’s job is available anytime, to anyone who can do it better. When that happens then Polak will move to 7th.

  • FlareKnight

    Wow….this was written with some attitude. Why not just go all out and complain about signing Polak?

    In the end the Leafs go out and get someone for the bottom pairing who can be flipped at the deadline. It’s just the Winnik situation, but this time more obvious that they don’t intend to keep him around with the one-year deal.

    A cheap veteran addition for the bottom pairing that doesn’t have any long term impact. That’s basically all this is.

    Kind of hard to take the article seriously though when it’s written with such a grumpy attitude. Why not push the job onto someone else?

  • FlareKnight

    For one year? I’m likin’ it!
    – Tough SOB
    – Buys time for the younger guys
    – And, as was mentioned by Shawn, better the devil you know than the Russell you don’t.

  • CMpuck

    I think the analytics community was under the mistaken belief that this management team would be catering to them. It’s one year and he can be flipped at the deadline, I’m ok with this deal.

    Babcock and Lou seem like they wipe themselves with print outs from extraskater.

  • Will Murray

    The leafs won free agency with the Polak (and Martin) signing. The addition of those two represent a big step forward for the team. And most importantly, these kind of players will protect the kids and give Matthews, Marner and Corrado all sort so freedom on the ice.

    Once again the best in the NHL leaf analytic team found a hidden gem to complement the young team and still provide trade deadline fodder to continue the rebuild. I’m so happy with the new analytics team and their focus on complete players because unlike clueless Nonis, he would never find quality players like we have secured.

    • Jeremy Ian

      Ha! Good one.

      Next year is still transition, and the sharp upturn in the curve will be 2017-18.

      Next trade deadline the Leafs angle:

      Laich, Michalek, Greening, Holland

      On defense:
      Hunwick, Polak

      Martin can be exposed for the draft expansion .

      As for the backlog of prospects, I think we are looking at a summer trade. Corrado is kind of dangling in the wind.

      This is the future D-corps:


      At camp Matthews, Marner, and Timashov are going to be really impressive. But they are teenagers! They need to have long careers and we want the Leafs be contenders for the long haul. I don’t see anything in the recent decisions by management that make me think something is wrong up there. Yeah, sure I would rather have signed Martin for 2-3 years. Whatever. In the larger scheme of things, we are fine.

  • CMpuck

    Polak takes an unfair amount of heat for a player with so many positive attributes. He is a real team guy that will help our young roster.
    Now he has Stanley cup final experience as well,
    and the Sharks depended on Polak significantly
    last year.
    Very happy to have you back Roman!

  • TGT23

    So… what is the lineup and who is the odd-man-out?


    With Hunwick and Corrado fighting for the 7th D spot?

    I’m okay with that… I think.

  • Brent Wisken

    People need to relax. So much for patience. Within a three week span people lose their minds. With regards to Matt Martin, he is only one person on a 23 man roster. The fact management hasn’t signed any other UFA forwards shows that they are sticking to the plan – making sure there is room for the young forward prospects to make the team. With regards to Polak, he is only signed to a one year deal, and the Leafs don’t have the same depth with their young d-men prospects as they do with their forwards. The d-men prospects can continue to develop with the Marlies. There is still room for Conner Carrick and Zaitsev to make the team. The same people who complained that Kessel was treated badly by fans then go about being rude and cruel to other players they don’t care for. Enough with the hysterics.

  • Brent Wisken

    A rough and tough grizzled veteran who takes no prisoners. In the second year of the rebuild a guy like Polak fills a spot on the defence by playing a strong, physical game who disheds out more than he takes. Plus as others have pointed out will obtain another draft pick at the trade dead line. At one year a good move.

  • Gary Empey

    We add a fourth liner and bottom pairing defenseman and it’s like “plan the parade” here.

    I rather have Roman Polanski and Dean Martin than these two guys.

  • Gary Empey

    The guy was good enough to play as a 6th defenceman in 24 playoff games for a team that went to the cup final. Surely he could fill that role on the worst team in the league? This is a good signing for the leafs, a tough defensive guy. Too many softies on the blue line.

  • wallcrawler

    Calling Marincin and even JVR physical players is kind of stretching it, don’t you think?
    Martin uses his body to separate a player from the puck, Marincin uses his stick. Polak uses his size to move people from in front of the net, Marincin? He uses his stick to disrupt forwards from getting deflections or shots off.

    • TGT23

      Not many players can move JVR when he’s sitting in the crease screening goalies. You don’t see him going into the corners as often as a guy with his size should be but he’s a force in front.

    • Gary Empey

      Polak is also really good on stopping the cycle.

      You know the one I mean, where the forward skates around the boards with his ar$e sticking out hoping to either draw a penalty or create a dangerous scoring chance.

      With his exceptional upper body strength, he gives them a shove and down they go. After that the puck is up for grabs.

      Someone complained about the photo. It is good to laugh at ourselves sometimes. Reminded me of Bobby Orr after batting one out of the air for a goal.

    • TGT23

      2.25 is fine. The cap hit isn’t my issue. My issue is we’re basically guaranteed to lose Corrado. Unless the plan is to healthy scratch two D-men every night.

      • Gary Empey

        If you look at the big defensive picture there are really only three defenceman whose jobs look secure. Gardiner, Rielly and Zaitsev. The other four spots are available. Corrado wasn’t ready when the Leafs got him. That’s the reason Vancouver put him on waivers. All of these guys must know they will have to work hard over the summer if they want to make the team. You have some Marlies also pushing for those spots. For sure some of these guys will be on the move. Corrado is still too young to give up on.

        What interests me most is the last top four spot. Personally I am hoping Dermott has worked his a$$ off all summer and surprises everyone. He was drafted to play a top four role. At the same time I know he will likely need time on the Marlies.