Leafs practice D
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 31, 2017
Thank goodness. Last year’s re-signing of Roman Polak didn’t make sense to me, as he’s always been bad. Over the three seasons prior, Polak’s teams simply performed much worse with him on the ice at 5v5 than they did with him on the bench.
Polak performed as he always has last year and got caved in in terms of shot share and then he unfortunately suffered a serious leg injury in the playoffs.
Yikes. Anyway, I don’t think I need to explain to anyone that Polak couldn’t afford to lose another step and that between getting older (he’s 31 now, although it feels like he’s 38) and suffering this gruesome injury, it would be quite unlikely that he’d be able to keep up with the new NHL game. The Leafs also play a high-paced game and he hadn’t even performed like an effective NHL defenceman pre-injury. Also going against Polak’s chances was that the Leafs had brought in Ron Hainsey to play the right side, meaning they now had Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev and Connor Carrick ahead of him on the depth chart. There seemed to be no conceivable argument for him to sign a contract and play games for the Leafs this season.
Except Mike Babcock tends to die on some pretty strange hills. He more or less refused to play any defender not named Ron Hainsey or Nikita Zaitsev on the penalty kill through the first nine games. Hainsey played 12 minutes on the penalty kill in the very first game alone! A few games in, I started to get the feeling that Babcock was making a point. He needed his favourite penalty killer back and he got just that. The Leafs re-signed Polak to a one year, $1.1 million deal and I died a little on the inside. Carrick had been playing great in a sheltered role with Andreas Borgman and this signalled he would be spending some time in the press box so that Polak could growl at people and then fall down. Four games in, Polak has been far and away the worst Leaf on the ice and he somehow got even less mobile. The results? Not great, Bob!
Long story short, the Leafs have been caved in with Polak on the ice, which is nothing new. When you compare the results in this tiny sample, it’s hard to understand why Babcock decided that Carrick needed to come out and it’s even harder to understand why he needed to be replaced by Polak.
Carrick was driving some pretty good results early on, as he did last year. It seems like this is entirely about Babcock refusing to play any of the defenders other than the two mentioned earlier on the penalty kill. The thing is, Polak has never been anything great on the penalty kill himself. He’s better there than he is at 5v5, but that doesn’t take much. In terms of shot and goal suppression at 4v5, he’s been pretty much break even. That doesn’t exactly make up for his 5v5 deficiencies. For a better comparison of Polak v. Carrick, let’s look at these same adjusted 5v5 metrics from 2015-2017.
Somehow, Polak’s GF% has been in the positives while Carrick’s is break even, despite Carrick’s process being significantly better. Carrick’s team has fared better on the shot clock with him on the ice, while Polak’s…. hasn’t. The difference in goal differential has been driven by percentages. Polak has ridden a 101.23 PDO during those two years (PDO is simply on-ice sv% + on-ice sh% and usually lands around 100) while Carrick has a 99.78 on-ice PDO during that time. What this says to me is that Carrick would be the much better bet to drive goal differential in the future. I just find it hard to see an argument that Polak is going to help you score more goals than the other team going forward than Carrick is.
Am I smarter than Mike Babcock? Hell no, but does Mike Babcock have some glaring, stubborn biases that hinder his lineup decisions? Hell yes.
Connor Carrick forever.