I can’t believe I’m typing this, but this afternoon it was announced that the Toronto Maple Leafs have signed (re-signed?) unrestricted free agent defenseman Roman Polak.
Honestly, I’m actually relieved about all this. The Leafs signing Polak means they almost assuredly won’t be signing Kris Russell.
So beyond that, what’s the logic?
Well, the Leafs were clearly in pursuit of a player capable of playing in their top four. The team’s pursuit of Russell suggests as much. And honestly, Polak probably does play in the team’s top four this year. Why?
Because he checks off another box for the Leafs: he’s a right-handed shot.
The Leafs now have Rielly, Gardiner, Hunwick, and Marincin as lefties, and Polak, Carrick, Corrado, and Zaitsev as righties. You can argue any one of those righties would be a better option to be playing big minutes for the Leafs (and you’d probably be right), but knowing what you know about the way management views those other players, what do you think is the likeliest outcome?
Another box Polak checks off for the Leafs is toughness. The team clearly wanted to get tougher, and we saw that yesterday with the signing of Matt Martin. Today’s move furthers that. The Leafs now have a team consisting of players like Van Riemsdyk, Kadri, Komarov, Martin, Laich, Marincin, and Polak – all of whom can be considered tough to varying extents. So, Mike Babcock should be satisfied with that.
Polak is of course also a character guy, loaded with intangibles, rah rah, whatever buzzwords you want to fill in. That’s another check mark.
And he gives them a known quantity. Better than the devil you know than the devil you don’t likely comes into play here. If you’re not going to sign Russell and are looking at your other options, such as perhaps Dennis Seidenberg or Matt Bartkowski, why not just go with the guy that you know is a sure thing? (I use “sure thing” in relative terms).
And of course, Polak offers flexibility as well. Do you like Polak as a player? Not really? Well, it’s a good thing it’s only a one-year deal then. So, Polak offers no long-term danger the team, unlike perhaps Matt Martin and his four-year deal.
So how should you feel about this? Again, I’d say be relieved. The team’s desire to bring in a player such as Polak is questionable, though in my mind given the state of the team it doesn’t matter too much either way. I mean hell, if the Leafs end up bad again next year, maybe better to have Polak than a guy like James Wisniewski, where the upside is higher, and thus the tanking possibilities dimmer. But really, mainly, you should be relieved the team isn’t signing Kris Russell to a long-term deal. That would’ve been far more harmful.
Basically, my feelings on Polak are this: could be better, could be worse. I question the player, but I can rest easy knowing Russell isn’t going to be a thing.