When it looked like the Leafs were going to trade everyone on the roster this past summer, Polak was a name that came up a decent amount. It’s not surprising – Polak is going into the last year of his contract, at a cap hit of $2,750,000, even though his real salary is $3,100,000.
But it’s also not surprising that the Leafs didn’t move him yet. This is a franchise that preaches professionalism in every facet of a player’s life, including the weight room. And that’s somewhere that Polak excels. He’s a freak. In his days in St. Louis, the team had to stop him from benching more than 315 pounds because he couldn’t actually improve his fitness test results. And it’s not just the bench press that is impressive.
For the second straight summer, Polak finished No. 1 on the club’s fitness testing, which encompasses a variety of exercises measuring strength and endurance. He’s been asked to stop at 315 pounds on the bench press just because he couldn’t improve his score with any more weight added.
“He could shave his whole body and he’d still be intimidating because of his size,” teammate Cam Janssen said. “He’s a freak. He’s not only out-benching everybody, he’s beating everybody in the sprint test and the (breathing) test. I don’t know what they do where he lives, but I’m going to have to go over there and start training with him.”
Cam Janssen isn’t who I would normally go to for a quote, but this is too incredible not to talk about. Out-doing everyone at basically…everything. That kind of work ethic in the gym is something I imagine the higher ups in Toronto want the younger players to see and learn from.
The 6’0, 236 pound Polak was born in the Czech Republic to one human parent and one bear. After being a 6th round pick by the St. Louis Blues in 2004, Polak played his entire career in the Blues’ system until last year’s trade that sent him to Toronto for Carl Gunnarrson.
In his first year with the Leafs, Polak scored 5 goals and added 4 assists, while being a -22, in 56 games. He became infamous and beloved for his hard-nosed physical play, and furthered when he blocked a shot with his face…and came back to the game a short time later.
Now we are about to see Polak – a player who isn’t known for his skating and offense – play for a coach that has shown a preference for that kind of defenseman. Polak got a lot of love under Randy Carlyle, but Babcock is a different coach with different values.
Polak’s HERO chart supports what is thought about Polak – he does help suppress shots against. He isn’t excellent at it, but a competent top four d-man.
Where his HERO chart is surprising in his goals per 60 minutes of play. To be fair, there were a couple times this past season where we saw him pinch and push the puck up the ice, which wasn’t thought of as a skill he possesses.
That all said, Polak is in no way an offensive defenseman. He is as pure a “defensive defenseman” as you’ll find.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
Since Polak is a right-handed defenseman, he holds some value with a coach that prefers to play his defenseman on their strong side. Polak is one of two righties out of the seven d-men it looks like the Leafs will carry. It is likely that Dion Phaneuf will play on his weak side this season, which leaves Polak and Stephane Robidas as the natural righties to fill out that side – if Babcock wants to play the D that way. Polak is a better option than Robidas, so it is possible that he will see good top-four minutes.
And the top-four minutes might actually be good to showcase him to playoff teams that will be looking for the ever-valued right-handed “top-four” defenseman. With Polak’s contract expiring and a glut of potential NHL defensemen in the system, it would be very surprising for the Leafs to keep Polak past the deadline.