Hey Nico, Let’s Go Bowling!

Roman Polak is back for another year with the Leafs. Didn’t take long for the fan base to turn on management, with some coaxing along from the mainstream media. It’s amazing how talk of how we have “the smartest management group in the NHL” turns to “Oh my god they’re so dumb!” based on the signing of two role players.

When it comes to facts, the Leafs management team has assembled a good, young, and skilled core of prospects and young defencemen. Nikita Zaitsev has not played on a North American ice surface for any sustained amount of time in his career. Polak – due to a lack of foot speed – has HAD to play positional hockey throughout his career, as a right-handed defender. If Polak can help Zaitsev adjust his positioning to fit the North American surface, Zaitsev will be able to pull of pinches that Polak regularly misses due to that aforementioned speed. Add to that playing every game in the Sharks cup run, and he’ll prove to be a good source of experience even for guys like Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner.

Polak returning also creates some internal competition in the bottom 4, which Babcock loves. If there’s one thing Toronto needs during the rebuild, its competition. The Oilers, for example, had no competition for spots, and granted young players big contracts before they did anything of note. If even half of those players had to WORK their way into the lineup, Edmonton may be a powerhouse right now instead of persistent bumblers.

In short order, the Leafs have reacquired a defenceman who A) loves to get rough and B) helps with total team development. Polak is, in essence, a big bruiser who will stick up for teammates and gives opposing players something to think of before taking a run at someone. As you may or may not recall, Andreas Johnson got his block knocked off in the AHL playoffs, and a distinct lack of players of Polak’s ilk was noticeable when the Marlies had no one but Rich Clune who could answer back.

Polak is on a 1 year deal, and while the amount has has yet to be disclosed, it’s not an anchor contract, and should be easy to flip at the deadline if we are in a similar position as this past season. Should one of the youngsters prove more deserving of his roster spot, room will be made, one way or another. That being said, role players are important, and every team has them. Like I mentioned in my article yesterday, not every player on a roster is a 40+ point-getter, and Polak is a good penalty killer and can clear the front of the net effectively, which is something every team needs. He can get exposed by speed, and that was evident in the Pittsburgh series, but on the flip side, every team got exposed by the Penguins.

As a final point, the management team isn’t stupid. Not everything needs to be an analytical Grand Slam to be considered, and you can’t ice an NHL team with no veteran leadership on the back-end. The Leafs have exactly 1 veteran defenceman on each side of he ice in Hunwick and Polak now, and that’s not a bad thing. Welcome back Roman, at the very least, I’m glad you’re here.

#KeepMatthewsSafe

Day one of the free agent period is pretty well in the bag, and Leafs nation appears to have collectively forgotten what was said at the end of the season.

“Well, obviously we’re gonna look after that in the off season, I can promise you that. There will be none of that foolin around going on. We’re a group right now, obviously, we don’t have a lot of that (toughness) right now. We’ll get that fixed.” – Mike Babcock 03/19/2016

 

Mike Babcock promised that the leafs would bring in tough players to protect our young stars, and that is exactly what Uncle Lou and Co. have done by signing Matt Martin. If Babcock, one of the best NHL coaches around, believes that the leafs need some grit present on the team, you can’t really question that. This isn’t the Brian Burke/Dave Nonis “5 minute fighters” style of toughness either. This is bringing in a player who will battle for the puck, throw his weight around, and make some of the dirty elements around the league really think about whether it’s worth the amount of punishment to take a run at one of our guys for 10+ minutes a night at least.

That being said, Matt Martin is no slouch as player either. No he doesn’t put up many points, but no team in the NHL has 4 lines of 50+ point guys. Martin brings a very good defensive mindset to any line he may play with, and should be able to offset some of the expected “rookie” mistakes that come when you have a team full of kids under 25. He’s got good shot suppression numbers, is consistently near the top of the league in hits, and raised his line’s CorsiFor by about 5% give or take. At only $2.5 million for 4 years, this deal won’t hamper the team when it comes time to start extending players coming off of entry-level deals. On top of all that, this gives the Leafs another player they can expose in the entry draft, and should Martin be a player that is claimed, all these complaints about a 4 year term will be a moot point.

All in all, on day 1 of Free Agent Frenzy, the leafs did well to stay clear of all the over-priced role players, and sign a reasonable deal that helps keep our rookies safe, without sacrificing a whole line to fighter types.