Photo Credit: © Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Leafs sign Mark Borowiecki?

At the time of writing this post, we are less than a month away from the start of free agency. This means Speculatetember has kicked into maximum overdrive with potential additions for each team being thrown at the dartboard every other minute. With each passing day, we’ll get a better idea of who will be hitting the open market and who will pull a Steven Stamkos by signing with their incumbent team at the 11th hour.

For Leafs fans, the past few weeks have been spent searching the league for the best defenseman not named Alex Pietrangelo that will be available on October 9th. On Thursday morning, a former Ottawa Senator was added to the list of potential targets to help shore up the back end.

Hailey Salvian of The Athletic reported that Mark Borowiecki is scheduled to hit the open market as he looks to seek new opportunities elsewhere. This comes after he was rumoured to be available around the trade deadline (with an ankle injury preventing a move) and him removing the Senators from his Instagram bio.

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You might be thinking to yourself “Borowiecki? Why does that name sound familiar?” Maybe this video will help refresh your memory:

Jokes aside, Borowiecki could provide some physicality on the Leafs third pairing and has shown to be a popular figure in the Senators dressing room (which is always important for team chemistry). But should the Leafs even pursue him?

Last season was his best offensive season with seven goals, 11 assists, and 18 points in 53 games. You may seem unimpressed by these numbers and that’s because Borowiecki’s calling card hasn’t been his scoring abilities, with his previous high being 11 points.

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Borowiecki is better described as a defensive defenceman who is willing to block shots, play the body, and drop the gloves on occasion. Because of this, his underlying numbers take a hit since he started 61.1% of his shifts in the defensive end. He posted a 43.92 CF%, a 46.72 FF%, a 48.48 xGF%, a 45.09 SCF%, and a 47.44 HDCF% at 5v5 in Ottawa last campaign. While he did post the seventh-highest TOI in the same scenario on the lowly Senators, those are not pretty numbers any way you slice it.

© Micah Blake McCurdy 2020

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Are all of these numbers a by-product of being on a bad team or are they a reflection of the type of player Borowiecki is? During seasons where the Senators made the playoffs, the aforementioned underlying stats saw small improvements nearly across the board. It is entirely possible that he posts better numbers on a contending team and showcases his ability to be a positive contributor. Or we can look at the fact that he recently turned 31 and realizes it is also likely that Borowiecki is what he is at this stage of his career.

I have no doubt that Borowiecki could fit in nicely into the Leafs locker room and be well-liked off the ice. But if we’re talking on-ice play, I can’t see him pushing Toronto over the edge despite playing a physical brand of hockey. Look no further than Radko Gudas, who shares a sandpaper playstyle to Borowiecki but is a much better player in terms of his underlying metrics. Even Martin Marincin is more effective in terms of shot contributions and zone entries.

The only thing that Borowiecki really has going for him on the open market is that he won’t command much money. Evolving Hockey projects his cap hit to be around $1.7 million per season, which is a minor pay raise from his $1.2 million AAV on his previous deal with the Senators. Cheap contracts like his will become important as we enter a prolonged period of a flat salary cap, so there is some value on that front which should be considered. He won’t be one of the big fishes in free agency and will have to wait for either a few days or weeks before he signs with a new team.

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Taking everything into account, I don’t think it is worth it for the Leafs to sign Borowiecki this October. While he does provide a physical playstyle and would become a popular guy in the locker room, his on-ice contributions leave a lot to be desired and there are much better options on the market. He is also on the wrong side of 30 and will soon head towards a sharp decline in play due to his sandpaper style of hockey.

The only scenario I can see Toronto snagging Borowiecki up in free agency is if the team can’t sign players like Gudas and are on the hunt for cheap defenceman on short-term deals. I am not fully convinced this scenario plays out though, so expect to see “BoroCop” take his talents elsewhere this fall.

All stats unless otherwise noted are from Hockey-Reference.com and Natural Stat Trick.

The charts used are from hockeyviz.com.

All salary information is from PuckPedia.com.