Roman Polak’s perceived usefulness as a defender, or potential lack thereof, has been one of the most debated points among those who analyse the Leafs regularly. When he was brought aboard for another contract last summer, that news was met with plenty of criticism, and again brought up some questions about the front office’s overall approach. Now Polak is again hitting the free agent market, and if this is the time Toronto finally cuts that cord, we should look back and see how effective he actually was.
Polak’s supposed strength is in his physicality. He’s a bit of a bulldog on the backend, listed at 6’2 and 235 pounds. Going into the boards with him probably isn’t a ton of fun. Beyond that, he’s talked about as a good presence within the club and is seen as an ideal pro for the youngsters on the team to emulate in terms of productive habits and work ethic.
And while his 11 points on the season aren’t anything that jumps off the page, he does produce offense typical for his role as a depth player.
I mean, say what you will about Polak, but here’s how he looks next to a player in a somewhat similar role who might get 5 x 5M on the open market tomorrow. Things could be worse.
|Pts/60||CF% score-adj||CF% relative|
Polak might be comparable to some others who play the bottom pair, but that doesn’t make him valuable on the ice. A team that’s going to win a lot of games will want a player that exceeds those minutes, giving them play-drivers throughout the lineup. If Toronto continues to commit a portion of their game to just sitting back and getting caved in the defensive zone, that’s obviously not optimal.
It should be noted that the Leafs don’t do particularly well in their overall map like that one above, since they trade off attempts at such a high rate as a team, but Polak particularly gets lit up, especially in close. For someone billed as a physical net-clearing presence, there isn’t much evidence to back that up.
You’ll also notice in the With or Without You visual below, essentially everyone gets pulled to the left of the “Good” line when it comes to Score-adjusted shots for and against per hour. The only players that don’t get clearly dragged down with Polak are the fourth liners who are weak in their own right. Basically everyone else performs better away from #46 at even-strength.
I have a hard time believing the Leafs are going to bring back Polak, even if we assume his 2.25-million AAV is about what he’ll command on the market. Toronto does need help on the right side, and a lot of their in-house guys who might push for a spot – Borgman, Rosen, Dermott – all shoot left, but chances are they’ll look elsewhere to upgrade. Ideally, they’ll want to bring aboard a better play-driver in a reduced role (Cody Franson) or a player that can push Connor Carrick to that right-side bottom pair slot.
But who knows for sure? Babcock has always spoken glowingly of Polak, and as mentioned above, considers him someone worth learning from off the ice. There is a minuscule chance he’s brought back, but if this is the end of his time with the Leafs, I hope those intangibles he was known for were well-received by this youthful group as they move forward.