The Toronto Maple Leafs have signed Roman Polak to a one-year, $1.1 million contract, the club announced on Sunday.
Polak had been practicing with the team to start the year, working away at getting up to speed coming off of his leg injury sustained in the playoffs against Washington that required surgery.
With Connor Carrick, Andreas Borgman and Calle Rosen – the three defencemen in the third-pairing rotation — all averaging under 15:00/game over the first eight games, it’s not altogether surprising that the Leafs pulled the trigger here. In addition to their low time-on-ice figures, all three are at 59% or higher in offensive zone starts, speaking to Babcock’s lack of faith in his bottom pair in the early going.
The team has also been over-reliant on Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey in shorthanded situations; the two are averaging over five minutes a game on the penalty kill, with a huge drop off down to the next two defencemen in Morgan Rielly at 1:37/game and Andreas Borgman at 1:03/game. Jake Gardiner (39 seconds) has been lightly used in shorthanded situations, while Carrick and Rosen haven’t been used there whatsoever.
Last year, Polak was leaned on heavily in shorthanded situations (2:54/game, tops among Leafs defencemen) to go along with 15:00/game at even strength. His 47.82% Corsi For was worst among the Leafs’ D regulars, but he was on the ice for more even-strength goals for than against (55.56 GF%, 40 for, 32 against) while starting just 45% of his faceoffs in the offensive zone, which was about on par with Nikita Zaitsev for the toughest zone starts on the team. His .945 on-ice save percentage at 5v5 was the highest among D regulars.
The big question mark here is whether Polak is able to jump into game action, coming off a significant leg injury and having played just the one preseason game, and keep up with the pace.
One of Calle Rosen or Andreas Borgman – based on Borgman playing two games in a row, Rosen seems like the most likely candidate — will be sent to the Marlies to accommodate the addition of Polak to the 23-man roster.