Photo Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Know Your Enemy: The Ballad of Connor Carrick

Fun fact: I was supposed to write Connor Carrick’s preseason preview article, and the day I was going to, this happened:

Didn’t think I’d be writing about him a week later though.

Maybe writing about Connor Carrick is my calling. You wouldn’t have to look far to see that. It seemed like every time I wrote about the defense (and that was way too much this summer), I probably mentioned him as an option to improve the defense.

Although, it’s not that I really like him that much, or that I think he’s an amazing defenseman. But, these past couple years, if the Leafs wanted to optimize their roster, they would’ve done a better job playing him than Roman Polak in the lineup. At the very least, he’s a solid possession defenseman in sheltered minutes, something Polak couldn’t even do.

I’ve seemed to accidentally follow Connor Carrick’s career more than one should, especially since he wasn’t on the Leafs to start his career. In his rookie season in 2013-14, I actually saw his first NHL goal that came in just his second game. The Caps were down 3-0, and just finished killing Carrick’s penalty when he was sprung on a breakaway and buried it past Kari Ramo, sparking a comeback that eventually saw the Caps win 5-4 in the shootout.

I just happened to be watching that game because it was an off day for the Leafs, I didn’t work, and this game happened to be on TV.

So, that goal was what I thought of when the Leafs acquired him in 2016 with Brooks Laich and a 2nd (which turned into Carl Grundstrom) for Daniel Winnik and a 5th. I didn’t know a whole lot about him other than that, but it wasn’t a terrible first impression.

He spent the rest of the 2015-16 season with the Leafs, and wasn’t bad considering bad the team was. He scored a couple goals, got a couple assists, drove play, all the things you could ask from a young defenseman to try and secure a spot for next season.

And that he did. He found himself playing in the “top four” with Jake Gardiner, and once again played well in the 67 games he got to play. If anyone ever drew in, he was the odd man out over Polak or Hunwick, but it wasn’t frequent.

Last season started off well too. He made the team in a bottom pair role, and played well with Borgman for the early going.

And then, Polak was re-signed.

While Polak hadn’t been a huge problem before, he still wasn’t good. This year, he was really bad. And it was noticeable too. Whenever he was out of the lineup, and Carrick was usually in, the team was a much better possession team, and you usually saw it in the results. The Leafs were 29-20-5 with Polak in the lineup. Not bad, but considering the team was 20-6-2 without him, it shows that the team played at another level without him.

But, he could penalty kill. Sure, 46 minutes of it was his own doing, so he didn’t even kill them, but he could kill penalties, so he came in over Carrick. And that was the beginning of the end.

Carrick would slip back in during injuries, or if Babcock had brief moments of realization that Carrick was better and scratched Polak for him. Other than that, he rarely saw the ice.

Nov 8, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Josh Leivo (32) reacts after a goal by defenseman Connor Carrick (8) against the Minnesota Wild at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

And the same happened this year. He wasn’t all that impressive in camp, and didn’t make the roster to start the season. Luckily, the Leafs this year are different than last years Leafs, and Dubas tried to find him a better situation, which he found in Dallas. No more Frank Corrado or Josh Leivo situations.

And so far (albeit, in two games), he’s been playing well. Three assists (all of them secondary, mind you) in two games. 60.13% 5v5 CF% while playing on his offside with Polak.

Nothing to really read into, but it’s nice to see that he’s thriving in a new place thus far.

Whenever Babcock has talked about players like Peter Holland and Frank Corrado, who wanted more ice time, but never got the chance or earned it in his eyes, he likes to point out that they aren’t sticking with any other teams and proving him wrong.

Well, Carrick has his chance to prove him wrong. Maybe he will, or maybe he’ll be like the rest of the players who got stuck in Babs doghouse.

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