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.