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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

2017-18 Leafs Season in Review: Roman Polak

The man. The myth. The legend. Roman Polak made his triumphant return to the Leafs part of the way through the 2017/18 season after facing a horrific leg injury in last year’s playoffs.

Since the Leafs first acquired him from the St. Louis Blues in 2014, Roman Polak has been a controversial figure in Leafs Nation. He is loved by one subset of the fanbase for his gritty playing style and maligned by another for his lackluster stat line and slow pace to his game. That being said, both sides came together to send their well wishes to The Mountain Who Skates after he suffered what many thought would be a carry ending injury. However, Polak made a full and miraculous recovery and won his way back into Leafs management’s good graces and back into the lineup. But how did he do after rejoining the big club?

Stats

GP GOALS ASSISTS POINTS CF% (5V5) XGF% (5V5)
54 2 10 12 47.97 49.59

I wasn’t really expecting much from a points perspective when the Leafs signed Polak this season and he delivered on my expectations. 12 points in 54 games is certainly nothing to write home about but in his defense, most teams aren’t counting on their 6th dman to put up any kind of numbers. Polak really doesn’t drive play either. His 47.97 CF% is good for 21st among Leaf players with at least 50 minutes played across the season.

Polak did play a key role on the penalty kill, averaging 2.44 minutes on the PK per game; good for third among Leafs defensemen. That being said, his success in that role is debatable. The Leafs PK was successful in the beginning of the season but really started to look taxed as the season wore on and they leaned on Andersen heavily.

Polak did everything that was asked of him but often times looked out of his depth. He is a prototypical “stay at home” defenseman that throws the puck off the glass when he is in trouble (which is a lot). Babcock has praised him for his ability to make “safe plays” but this generally meant plays that had no chance of helping the Leafs. He is a low risk, low reward player.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Polak looked much better in the playoffs than he did in the regular season. His GF% jumped up to 62.5%. That being said, this was almost certainly aided by a 105.78 PDO. By the eye test he did look more active in the series against the Bruins but he also likely wasn’t the player Boston was most worried about containing.  

Grade: C-

I considered giving Polak a harsher grade, but I was afraid he would take my class again in the summer to improve his marks. Ultimately, Roman Polak was as good as you could expect him to be but that still isn’t particularly good. His numbers were really solid in the playoffs but with PDO of above 105, it’s hard to parse out how much of that was puck luck. His results in-season left a lot to be desired and, quite frankly, his presence in the lineup kept better players from being able to prove their worth. Polak contributed to the best of his abilities. He worked his ass off to get back into the lineup, but he just didn’t have enough gas left in the tank to move the needle for the Leafs defensively in any lasting way.

Fun Fact

Roman Polak is a monster in the weight room. Back when he was with the Blues they had to beg him to stop adding weight to the bench press  because he couldn’t improve his fitness score by adding any more weight and he was already at 315lbs. I don’t think I could lift 315lbs if I used a pump truck.

I used to live across the street from Roman Polak in Toronto (true story) and he was an absolute mammoth of a man. I would see him walking around downtown sometimes and it never ceased to amaze me how huge and intimidating a figure he had. We are talking Bond villain henchman level of bulk. As I was looking up fun Polak facts I found this gem from an old TLN article by Bobby Cappucino.

The 6’0, 236 pound Polak was born in the Czech Republic to one human parent and one bear.”

I dare you to tell me (or Roman) that this isn’t 100% true.

TLN PLAYER PROFILES: D ROMAN POLAK

Season Highlight

This is one of the most absurd goals I have ever seen in my life and the only logical explanation is that it was accomplished by magic. Roman Polak is a wizard. His stick is his wand. Walnut and dragon heartstring, sixty-five and three-quarter inches. Unyielding. This is the stick of Roman Polak.

Joking aside, Polak really does have a wicked shot when he is put in a position to use it; even when it doesn’t bounce off two seperate opposing players before going in the net. When he manages to get a slap shot off cleanly, I can’t imagine opposing defensemen are particularly excited to try and block it. That being said, I’m generally more partial to a floating wrister with a higher percentage chance at getting through and getting tipped.

2018-19 Outlook

This is a tricky one. I hate to come across as overly harsh but if Roman Polak is a Toronto Maple Leaf next season, it will be an indication of a serious failing on the part of Kyle Dubas. It isn’t even necessarily that Polak is the worst player in the league. He has had moments (even this season) where he was a serviceable third pair defenseman but the issue is one of opportunity cost. At his absolute best, Polak is OK but not great and at his worst, he is a drain on your team; spending half the game in the penalty box and the other half making you wish he was in the penalty box. He is far from the only player in the league who is guilty of this but having him in the lineup means you aren’t auditioning someone who could be a legitimate contributor. Connor Carrick has shown flashes of greatness. At times he has proven he has the ability to move the puck in the right direction and chip in offensively when needed. It hasn’t always been rosy but we won’t ever find out if he can be more consistent unless he plays. And if we find out he isn’t the defenseman the Leafs need, at least they’ll find that out now while they still have time to fleece Florida for Mark Pysyk. Ultimately, I wish Polak well and hope he continues his NHL career for years to come. But I hope he does it on another team.

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