8 things to consider about the Roman Polak signing

Photo Credit: Kim Klement/USA TODAY SPORTS

A couple of days back, the Toronto Maple Leafs made a big splash. They listened to the demands of the fans, and they brought in a brand name, right-handed defenceman. That defenceman? Well, they brought back Roman Polak. Hey, he’s a brand name here at least!

Anyway, here are a few thoughts on the signing, from my personal perspective.

  • Perhaps the best news here is that this signing should all but put the Leafs out of the Kris Russell negotiation saga. Yes, many of us are still sweating bullets because the only denial of the various reports that they’re in it comes in the form of the agent denying that they’ve rejected an offer from Toronto. At the same time, it’s quite likely that they’ve come to their senses and pulled the offer out themselves. 
  • At the same time, I think this pulls the Leafs out of the running for anybody else that’s available in free agency, if only because the Leafs now have eight or nine defenceman who are at least NHL replacement level. That’s a shame; I really thought they should pursue James Wisniewski if the price was right. Now that they’re at this point, though, any defenceman that would come in will likely come via trade, both because of the quality gap and the fact that others will have to go the other way for the sake of the roster.
  • I don’t think Polak replaces Matt Hunwick, as much as people who felt that the former was better than the latter last year would like to believe. Shot handedness is something to take seriously, especially if you’re a defensive defenceman who needs to control clear outs / dump ins along the boards and make/receive lateral passes. We can debate who the extra guy is on each side of the stick, but it’s now definite that the Leafs have a rightie and a leftie available in case of emergency, which can, at times, be better than having a surplus of slightly better players.
  • Something that might shock you: I love watching Roman Polak. In fact, a lot of my “watch the game on TV” feelings are completely counter to how I feel about asset and team management. I love watching a player slam his opponent into the boards, block a shot with his face, get stitched up, and do it again. Roman Polak might be the most badass player on the Leafs roster. I really wish these things correlated with success.
  • You know what’s great about this deal? The term. One year is fantastic. Truthfully, I don’t care all too much about what experiments the team wants to do with roster composition in the crawl-out stage of a rebuild, so long as they’re not stuck with them if it doesn’t work out the way they want. Being able to take things a year at a time with a depth player is a beautiful thing.
  • The salary, though? Well, for kind of the same reasons as above, I don’t really care. In fact, I’m torn as to whether it would’ve made more sense for it to have been higher or lower. Give him a bit of a “thanks for coming back” raise and you see more of Nathan Horton’s eventual LTIR benefit get capitalized on in October, only to be shed if the team moves contracts later. Play tougher hardball, and his trade value probably slightly increases in February, when the pro-ration brings the cap hit to peanuts.
  • With that said, I don’t think the Leafs are getting two seconds for him and whoever the Spaling equivalent is this year. Bless his soul, but Polak wasn’t overly effective against the more elite teams in the late rounds of the playoffs If he goes on the market again, he’ll be looked at as depth rather than a major piece.
  • Many are concerned about the “Death of Frank Corrado”. I know I originally felt that way, having seen this story happen to him in Vancouver and feeling frustrated when they waived him. However, deaths are overstated. Injuries are common and even if Corrado ends up the 4th most valued Right Handed defenceman, that just makes him the first replacement. Between broken bones, illnesses, and Babcock wanting to teach lessons to mistake makers, there’s going to be lots of room to get into the lineup. Hell, I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if the team tried to hold onto eight defencemen for as long as they possibly could.

Overall, I’m okay with this signing. Roman Polak isn’t a very good player; he’s a just-above replacement NHLer who gets valued a little too highly by front offices today. But it’s a one-year deal for a player who will ensure that you’re not stuck without a right handed shot, and one that you know gets along with the players in the room. If nothing else, it’s worth it just for all the photos of him soldiering on despite obvious flesh wounds, as Roman Polak does.

  • CMpuck

    Umm guys.. this is what i wish this site had written. Leafs Nation has a ton of great content and i thank you for that but these last few weeks have lacked context and common sense:


    Analytics at all cost? Analytics is an extremely important part of the process but let’s not ignore common sense – skilled players need to be protected and feel safe on the ice.

    Instead of saying we don’t understand the Leafs draft strategy yet but that’s okay because we won’t know the outcome for years, many writers on this site acted like they were more knowledgable then Leafs management… time will tell I guess.

    • “Instead of saying we don’t understand the Leafs draft strategy yet but that’s okay because we won’t know the outcome for years, many writers on this site acted like they were more knowledgable then Leafs management… time will tell I guess.”

      Let me point you to our post-draft article, which was literally titled “Nobody knows how the Leafs did at the draft, and that’s okay”.

      I understand that skepticism after such a strong stretch of non-criticism is a bit different, but that doesn’t mean we think the Leafs have suddenly become morons and that we’re smarter. All we’ve really done is acknowledge that they’ve approached the process differently than we expected that they would without going out of our way make up a blind justification for it.

      • Jeremy Ian

        Hey Jeff — that skeptical article concerned the Leafs’ drafting, which is cool. It was a change in tone, sure. Many of us figured the draft approach was a decision to exploit a different kind of market imperfection and pick up the undervalued overagers. Especially given the stock of high end potential talent and another crop (7, I think?) of picks coming in 2017.

        It was after that, post-Stamkos, that there was a flurry of articles from you all that went from skeptical to doomsdayish. As if the whole strategy had been hijacked.

        There’s a difference between being critical and being hysterical. The backlash from us that you are getting is to the latter, not the former.

        Signing Polak’s fine. Maybe Wisniewski would have been better — though I think there are health concerns there. But the Leafs have a very inexperienced defensive core on that flank and Polak gives them some reliable, non-committal, options.

      • Gary Empey

        The Justification for the their Approach is how the big club got pushed around this past season and how the Marlies got pushed around in the playoffs. Skill ultimately isn’t enough to win. And we had a abundance of Skill but very little grit.

    • CMpuck

      Bang on, in my opinion.
      Too many bloggers on here have suddenly cast themselves as “better/smarter” than our current management team. I find it amusing, most times annoying. But, we all have our own opioins. Still makes for good debate, while we wish our summers away.
      Isn’t hockey the best?

      Go Leafs Go!!!

  • CMpuck

    Lou and Dubas’s moves this off season are rivalling Nonis level boneheadedness with the fetish for big gritty players in the draft and UFA. And yet Nonis somehow managed to have the marlies reach the calder cup finals and have the leafs in the playoff and so arguably has had better success despite his plentiful mistakes. I can’t figure which one of these was worse. But that is really the wrong question, as in reality they are both founding wanting.

  • CMpuck

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it would be nice for someone on this site to be A LITTLE objective. Perhaps remember that last time around Polak wore an “A” on his jersey.

    You can’t find any Stat to rate leadership?
    No stat to rate toughness, strength, character, determination or being a team player?

    I guess these things must not be important and
    they should be contemptuously dismissed.

    The reality is stats can be manipulated to make any point you wish to make.
    I see “Stats aficionados” in one breath say how weak a stat plus minus -/+ is, and in the next breath use this same stat to condemn a players performance for example in the playoffs for being -3.

    The fact is The Leafs management know what they are doing by any measure I can imagine. They know how important it is to be in the trenches with a team mate who exhibits intangibles that
    writers on this site scoff at.

    The Sharks knew the value of such a player and paid a premium price for him, when the Blues traded him to the Leafs reports came out that they missed him.
    If he would of been on the Stanley Cup Champs Penguins he would of been a valued member of their defense corp as well.

    But on the 30th placed Leafs , the writers on Leafs Nation rate him as a bad hockey player worthy of endless ridicule and contempt.
    The disconnect with reality is staggering.

  • Gary Empey

    I posted this earlier today but it is back so far I am re-posting it here.

    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 wide open. 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 seem too young and too promising 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 at camp. He was drafted to play a top four role. At the same time I know he will likely need time on the Marlies.

    • Kanuunankuula

      Re Corrado: Well, main reason was extremely bad management from Canucks, he was injured. Polak was pretty atrocious for the sharks. But again, GMs are stupid, so I guess some might trade for
      him because of #gnart

      Btw. Gary you mixed up sharks and ducks

  • Polak was an absolute disaster in the playoffs… I don’t see many teams trading for him come deadline day. But hey we need some righties, so what can you do. Better luck next July 1st (and the contract makes that easier!)

    • Gary Empey


      All the Sharks were. – Outskated. – Outcoached. – Outworked.

      — Penguin -mano a mano- Shark… Penguin wins everytime.

      Penguin has too much speed. That’s why you never see Sharks on the Antartic ice.

  • Kanuunankuula

    Well the sharks reached the SCF with Polak in their lineup. I suppose he’s so bad LA, NSH and STL would have been swept should they have Schultz instead ?

    • Kanuunankuula

      24 gp, zero points. Him and Dillon were the only minus players on the team. Stats aside, if you watched the games, it was mistake after mistake by Polak. Not simply being outplayed by superior opponents (can’t blame him for not being the best player), but doing the wrong thing time after time, leading directly to goals against (blame worthy).

      • Jeremy Ian

        Yeah, it was a bad. Not least because Polak and Dillon’s ratio of offensive zone to defensive zone starts gave them opportunities to show off their (challenged) offensive skills.

        As I recall, when the Pens could get their match-ups on home ice, they’d throw Kessel’s line out against Polak-Dillon. Ouch.

        Peter DeBoer did what a lot of coaches (Babcock included) do: over-endow the character of the player with skill. Happens all the time.


        I really don’t think Polak’s being signed to log heavy minutes for the Leafs. (Hunwick’s a different story). I think he’s in there to backstop the Zaitsev-Carrick-Corrado trio. Is it too much $$$ for that kind of role? Maybe. Is the term a problem? No. It’s a different kind of experiment than the one the San Jose Sharks tried.

  • Kanuunankuula

    So what I’m getting at is, if you are a team thinking you have a shot at the cup, and you want another D for your run, there is just no reason to get Polak, because surely there are other players available who are just as good and possibly better, so you might as well just hope to get that “possibly better” player who hasn’t already shown to be a complete liability the moment the puck is on his stick.

    I look forward to another year of Polak collecting the puck, retreating to behind the net for ten seconds, then making a break out pass to a covered player the red line that is instantly recovered by the other team.

    • Gary Empey

      Why are you beating around the bush? Babcock is to blame here. He obviously doesn’t have a clue on evaluating players, in your opinion. He is the one who asked Lou to bring back the Leafs worst defenceman last year, instead of playing two superior guys already on the team.

        • Gary Empey

          On the flip side, When Babcock was chosen to coach team Canada the GM brain trust were determined to add a certain player to the team.

          Babcock told them straight up. OK but if you add him to the team I won’t play him.

          It can also be self-defeating to hire someone you consider the best coach in the business, then turn around and “micromanage” by telling him how to coach each game.

          I am sure at the end of the season Babcock was asked “What are your needs for next year?” “And who do you like from the available free agents?”

          I stated in an earlier post only three jobs are secure on the blueline. Gardiner, Rielly, and Zaitsev. The other 4/5 are wide open. Babcock will choose the best of the bunch.

          If management feels the coach is misusing his players the solution normally is to the fire the coach.

          It looks like we may have to agree to disagree on this resigning. Just because Polak is signed doesn’t mean he has made this years Leafs yet. There will be a few of this type player at camp.

  • Gary Empey

    It’s actually a good move. For one year, it protects our young defense corps and allows the development of recently drafted players. The Leafs aren’t going to make the playoffs this year, so it’s a cheap alternative to other defensemen who would cost too much cap space.

  • Kanuunankuula

    Having some older, “know what they are” type veterans to eat up the really tough minutes against really good players is a really good idea. All of the young guys can be eased into their respective role, and have room to actually develop instead of having to face the top lines for the whole game.

    Rielly has already taken on these minutes, but he’s still very much developing, too. I like the move and the term, and Polak will bring a lot to the locker/weight room, too.

  • Kanuunankuula

    absolutely inexcusable to add polak when we have way better and cheaper options in corrado and carrick. then again, it’s one year and probably takes us out of the russell sweepstakes but it’s still awful. the only good thing is that he may fetch us another 2nd if he gets lucky again and doesn’t look terrible around the deadline. here’s hoping otherwise we lose a good 3rd pairing d-man for a pylon.

    • Gary Empey

      You seem to be missing the boat on Corrado. He came up through the ranks as a top pairing defencemen, not a bottom six. Good skater, booming shot, able to quarterback the powerplay. So far he has been unable to preform that role at the NHL level. Why, after he was waived by Vancouver to the AHL to develop his game, do you think he was unable to even make the lineup for the first half of the year? He was tried on the bottom pairing but still needs work for that role.
      He is young and still promising and the best place for him would be to play in the AHL to finish perfecting his game. If the Leafs could have done it last year they certainly would have. He is not NHL ready yet. If it turns out he comes to camp and he is better than Polak, Polak will be claimed on waivers.

  • Gary Empey

    Roman is a good player and the Leafs should be happy to have him again. Western Conference is much tougher than the East. Western Conference players should get paid more imo. No wonder the Sharks seemed more sluggish by the time they got to the final.

    There should be a Northern and Southern Conference instead imo to have more balance and fairness. As it stands now the West seems like a league the East teams should be promoted to like as in the Premier League in English Football. Hockey would be much better served if there was a promotion/relegation system of leagues. Hence the ‘race’ to the bottom for draft picks. What hard working paying fan can take such a current league seriously?

    Roman Polak will be a top-line D. I have seen little else in the Leafs roster that would make me think otherwise.

    Welcome Back Roman !!!

    • Gary Empey

      You point about promotion/relegation is a good one. It will never happen though. It’s too late now. Owners of hockey teams would never agree to it. Los Vegas just paid half a billion for a franchise. No way they would consider that if there was any chance they could end up in the AHL after the first season.