Earlier today, Leafs Twitter was set into a frenzy of debate, thanks to a video of Roman Polak skating in a Leafs practice jersey posted by his agent, Alan Walsh. You can find the video here; I was planning on embedding it because that’s what blogs do and half of Hockey Twitter is blocked by Mr. Walsh, but’s also one of those people who record videos vertically, which wasn’t going to be a good fit.
Now, a lot of people are taking this clip, the first of Polak skating since suffering a terrible fibula injury in the first round of the 2016/17 playoffs, as reason to believe that he’ll be coming back to the Leafs next year. I wouldn’t read too much into that, though.
Brooks Orpik with a knee-on-knee hit on Roman Polak, who is in serious pain pic.twitter.com/V0pzTcFheM
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) April 16, 2017
To not bore you with every single word of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, or even the nuances of specific sections, Article 34.6 outlines that teams are to see through the injury recoveries of their players, and that it’s up to both sides to decide whether the team will rehab the player or whether they can go to an equivalent place in another spot with the team paying the expenses. As well, Exhibit 1, which is the template of a Standard Player’s Contract, goes into heavy detail in point 5 about the team’s responsibilities to oversee the recovery of a player injured while under contract.
With that in mind, it goes without saying that Polak was injured while under contract with the Maple Leafs, and as such, it’s up to them to either oversee his recovery or at least fund and approve of it. As such, it’s not very shocking that Polak’s rehabbing in Leafs gear (not to mention, it’s probably the only gear he owns a significant supply of after playing a good 70% of his hockey here over the past three years).
But a new deal? I wouldn’t buy it. Toronto’s offseason signings of Patrick Marleau, Dominic Moore, and Ron Hainsey, and even their prior prospect signings of Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman, all carried a general theme to them; high mobility, and ability to play tough minutes. Mike Babcock said it best two days after free agency began:
“I think our young guys will be the fountain of youth for them,” Babcock said. “They can skate. You’re not old till your legs go. Everybody goes at a different time. But Patty is a great glider, same with Hainsey, same with Moore.
Polak was already one of Toronto’s sloggiest, sloppiest, fight-the-ice type skaters when healthy, and now he’s got a catastrophic injury to come back from. Does that not sound counter-intuitive?
Not to mention, how do you play him? His most frequent partner, Matt Hunwick, is off to Pittsburgh. That’s a pair that was already playing sheltered minutes and, according to PuckIQ, the ones who struggled the most with top competition. If the goal is to create a team where four lines and three pairs can stand up to everyone and win a track meet while doing so, you don’t even need the numbers to tell you that Polak is the antithesis of that.
Not to mention, if you’re looking for a depth player to play on the right side, Toronto has no shortage of those. The bigger issue is getting a top-end guy, but for now they have no shortage of right-handed shots (Connor Carrick, Justin Holl, Vincent LoVerde) and lefties that can and have recently play on the right side (Ron Hainsey, Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, Rinat Valiev) to fill in roles on the bottom pair and top of the AHL level. Even the staunchest defender of Roman Polak will tell you that he’s not going to make the top pairs better, so what purpose does he serve this season?
I wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest if he picked up a Pro Tryout or a 1-year contract from another team, and I hope he does. He plays a fun to watch, hard-nosed style of game that teams love to the point of fault, and will likely come very cheap as a result of his injury. But there’s even less of a fit for him on the Leafs this year then there was last, to the point where I’m not convinced that even those who rated him highly upstairs and on the bench would re-invest in him.
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