The Toronto Maple Leafs have brought back veteran defenceman Roman Polak on a one-year contract worth $2.25 million.

The 30-year-old Polak is a known quantity to Mike Babcock, who has described himself as a big fan of Polak’s professionalism and how he conducts himself in the workout room and in practice. It always seemed like a distinct possibility that Polak would be back knowing that Babcock valued his veteran presence on a young roster. Some thought the Leafs would simply provide a younger option like Connor Carrick or Frank Corrado with increased opportunity, and that may have been the better option. That said, seasons are long and teams need at least seven or eight defencemen over 82 games (injuries, trades, other surprises are inevitable).

The Maple Leafs have Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Carrick and Frank Corrado as righthanded options on the backend and none are proven commodities in the NHL, so the Leafs‘ thinking here appears to be that this adds some depth/competition on that right side in the form of an experienced NHL defenceman.

Polak struggled out of the gate as the Leafs’ number-five defenceman last season, but he took on more minutes down the stretch following the Dion Phaneuf trade and acquitted himself reasonably well, helping Leafs management’s cause as they sought a trade return on his expiring contract. He’s generally been a drain on possession, but his 342 minutes of even strength minutes alongside Martin Marincin, his most frequent partner at 5v5, produced some positive results:

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We’ll have to see if he ends up taking opportunities the Leafs should be reserving for younger defencemen with upside, but one place Polak will be needed is on the penalty kill; he played 3:29 a game at 4v5 before the trade, which would’ve ranked him fourth in the NHL in shorthanded icetime per game last season (Hunwick led the league at 3:42).

You wonder if Polak, especially as a right hander, might have fetched a multi-year deal if he wasn’t as badly exposed in the Cup Finals by the speed and depth of the Penguins attack while in San Jose. In the Leafs case, the one-year term may make him easier to flip at the deadline. Polak could garner another draft pick at the trade deadline for a second time if Leafs aren’t in the playoff mix, similar to the Daniel Winnik situation last season.