I came in like a wrecking ball
I never hit so hard in love
All I wanted was to break your walls
All you ever did was break me
Yeah, you wreck me
– Miley Cyrus
– Roman Polak
Emotions and front offices have been high over the past twenty four hours. Few things are more difficult to come to terms with than the fact that the Leafs, who have watched a lot of Roman Polak over the past three years, thought it was a good idea to sign him in his broken state, to play hockey. For them. The Toronto Maple Leafs.
Anyway, it’s time for a rational discussion of this signing, so I’ve put together a handy guide to work through all our Roman Polak feelings…
There’s No Need To Look At His Stats
This is an exercise in feeling sad. Never look at Roman Polak’s stats, they peak at being a passable third pairing defender on the best of days when he’s playing against the worst competition imaginable. There is not a single number associated with Roman Polak that will make you happy. You probably watch hockey to be happy and you need to trust me that there is nothing to feel good about here.
Besides, the Leafs didn’t sign Roman Polak for any kind of stat. They signed him because he’s a warrior, he clears the net, he’s a veteran, he’s blah, blah, blah, a bunch of other stuff that when you look at the numbers it isn’t going to translate. Maybe Polak is all of those things (he might have been a few years ago, but he’s definitely not now) and maybe there is some merit in having a statistical black hole (I don’t see how), but there is no denying that the traits associated with Polak aren’t overly common with the rest of the Leafs defensive core. Ideally you bring in good defensemen who do the things Polak does, but there is no denying that Polak was readily available and cheap, and knows the Leafs defensive system. These are all reasons why he’s here even though he’s not very good.
He Can’t Skate
Yep. That’s Polak in August, moving at the speed of beer league. One of the main criticisms of Martin Marincin was that he can’t keep up with the play and here’s Roman Polak moving at half that speed. The same voices that said Marincin can’t keep up are now telling us that speed doesn’t matter with Polak. Is it because he’s a warrior? Probably. I really hate when people call him this. Please stop doing this.
Anyway, I guess speed doesn’t really matter because the Leafs seem desperate for a stationary object in front of their net on the penalty kill. I can appreciate that Ron Hainsey can’t kill every penalty himself, but I want to believe that there was a modestly more mobile option available than Roman Polak. Still, Polak knows what Babcock wants on the penalty kill and this is about being cheap and familiar. Would I have gone with Justin Holl instead of Roman Polak if that was the requirement? Yes. Do the Leafs let me make decisions? Nope. So here we are.
He’s Taking Ice Time From the Kidz!
This is one that is pretty easy for me to get over, as I was all for sending Calle Rosen back to the Marlies before any of this ever happened. It’s not to say that Rosen can’t have a successful career in the NHL, it’s just he needs a bit more time to get there. That being said, this looks like the beginning of a platooning situation with Connor Carrick, who I happen to think very highly of, and would argue is most capable Leafs defender (besides Hainsey) at doing the things that the Leafs value in Roman Polak. Of course, Carrick has only seen 19 seconds of penalty kill time, so he’s not filling the void that the Leafs are perceiving. In fact, the Leafs don’t really seem to trust any defensemen on the penalty kill except for Hainsey and Zaitsev (really, Zaitsev?) and because for whatever reason coaches want to solve special teams over their 5v5 situation, we’ll see Polak come into the lineup and in all likelihood see the number of penalties taken spike because of this.
I really don’t have a good argument for Polak over Carrick, and I’m not sure we’re going to see defense pairings shift to all lefty/righty pairings. Rielly/Hainsey, and Gardiner/Zaitsev seem to be set in stone. Of course I could really go for a Rielly/Carrick pairing and let Hainsey do the heavy lifting with Polak, with Borgman the odd man out. Again, this means the kids are paying for the arrival of Polak.
It looks like Polak will replace Connor Carrick vs. #LAKings.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) October 23, 2017
Anyway, if we’re trying to figure out what’s going on, this is Babcock doing what he believes gives him the best chance of winning. After years of the Leafs being terrible it’s hard for us to divorce ourselves from the idea of developing players in games and letting them make mistakes and that’s going to be how they learn. That’s all I’ve got. This is very frustrating, I hate Roman Polak, and I can’t believe that Carrick is paying for it.
He’s Wasting A Contract Space
Yep. He sure is. He’s also taking up $1.1M worth of cap space, which isn’t horrible, but then you remember you’re using that cap space on Roman Polak. Compared to the $1.33M the Leafs are spending on Tim Gleason’s buyout, I’d say this is a marginally worse usage of money since the Tim Gleason buyout is a lot less likely to cost the Leafs a game this season.
On the other hand, this contract is at an amount that is easily buried in the minors if (when) Polak doesn’t pan out. There isn’t any reason to believe that having Polak here will hinder the Leafs from making any further transactions, and he’s comfort food for a coach that is generally pretty darn good. We’ve accepted a Babcock blind spot in Matt Martin, and it looks like we may be asked to accept another. This is the Dan Cleary factor and it’s painful, but I won’t pretend it’s not better than the Carlyle years or basically anything we’ve put up with in the past 13 years.
If you want to feel better about Roman Polak’s contract, I encourage you to go on NHL Numbers and explore what other teams have parked on their blue line. While we want the Leafs to be better, let’s remember that the Lightning saw value in Dan Girardi, and Connor McDavid’s best years are going to be spent watching Kris Russell turnover the puck in the Oilers defensive zone.
I feel like all I’ve done is dump on this signing, there are clearly some positives we need to take away from this…
- This team was too damn likable. It was hard to be mad at any player on the roster. Even Matt Martin has too much personality for me to dislike the fact that he’s not my ideal fourth liner. It’s nice having someone to yell at and blame every game. I used to be comfortable with Bozak being this guy, but too many of you have become Bozak believers. Roman Polak is universally disliked enough for us to be able to rally around despising him.
We get to make fun over each other again. Whether it’s the people who douse themselves in gas and light a match every time Polak is announced as being in the lineup or the equally comical “GRITTY WARRIOR LEADER” crowd, Leafs Nation is about to fill up with some of the hottest Roman Polak takes. If you don’t want to take what happens with the 6D position too seriously, you are about to embark on an enjoyable ride.
- This adds depth/development somehow. Rosen is back in the AHL working on his game. Connor Carrick sees that he’ll need to push harder, and the Leafs are now in a position where they can add Marincin, Rosen, Carrick, and Dermott as reasonable roster insertions as in house options. Depth is good and somehow Polak provides that.
- It’s something to discuss. People don’t understand how difficult it is to write about a team that has everything going their way. Roman Polak is a topic that will give you more #free #content on TLN. You’re welcome!
In closing, it’s pretty clear that not many people wanted this, and we’ve all earned the right to kick rocks about this. Nevertheless this is something that has happened, and since sports are supposed to be entertaining, I’m choosing to be entertained by this. The other options are despair or acceptance, and neither of those seem like something I’m capable of.