Roman Polak, Czech, is a 29-year-old right-shot defenseman usually deployed in the Leafs' bottom pair.
Where's he been?
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues 180th overall in 2004, Polak played parts of eight seasons with the Blues and the Peoria Rivermen, and has been a firm fixture in the NHL since 2008.
At the end of one of his strongest years as a player, 2011, he signed a five-year contract with the Blues for 2.75 million over 5 years. In 2014, Polak was traded to the Leafs for Carl Gunnarsson and a 2014 fourth-round draft pick. He's UFA this coming summer, of course.
Polak's best playing years were 2009-2010 and 2011-2012, where he played 78 and 77 games, respectively, earning a career high of 21 points in 2010. He is prone to a pattern of playing every other year shortened by injury since making the NHL full time, which has an interesting correlation to the sheer number of shots he tends to block.
Last season with the Maple Leafs, he played 56 games before ending his season in March to correct a sports hernia.
During 2009-2010, Polak earned a career-high in a number of defensive-defenseman stats, garnering 59 PIM, 138 hits, and 124 blocked shots. In 2011-2012, Polak achieved 57 PIM, 173 hits, and 141 blocked shots.
What's he done as a Leaf?
In 97 games played as a Leaf, Polak has scored 5G/13A, for 18 points. He has 90 PIM, and an average of 20:09 TOI. His deployment is definitely different between Carlyle/Nonis and Babcock. Under Carlyle, he saw a leap in ice time, playing 21:05 minutes per night (including one amazing game against the Ducks in which he played a team-high 26 minutes) -- something he had not done since he was 22 years old.
In 2014-2015, during which he played a shortened season of 56 games, he had 48 PIM, 225 hits, and 128 blocks. His zone starts under Carlyle were mostly in the defensive zone (59.5% dZS), earning 5G/4A with a strangely bad PDO of 96.6.
This season, Polak's minutes are reduced to 18:49 per game, which is about average for his career, and slightly better zone starts (52.4% dZS). Comparing Polak's performance last season to this season, he's actually hitting a lot less, averaging three hits per game played (158 in 41 games) vs. four hits per game last season (225 hits in 56 games). In return for hitting less, he's contributing to offense more.
Under Babcock, his total individual shots, measured in individual Corsi-for (iCF), is 92 at the midpoint of the year, which, if he holds to the same rate and remains healthy, projects to be 184-ish by the end of the year. This is an increase over an iCF of 120 under Carlyle and Nonis last season (although he only played 56 games due to injury), and a rate he has not matched since his 2011-2012 season in St. Louis.
Although Polak's PDO is an astonishing 103.0 this season, he is in the top 60 D in the league in points/60 for players who have played over 200 minutes.
My own eye test notes that he heads straight for the scrum along the short boards, finishing his checks and digging the puck free whenever he can, which is good. But after he's dug the puck free or finished his check, there's a moment or two of hesitation while he tries to read the play before he turns to move back into position. During that hesitation, someone else usually has the puck and is skating away with it, either for the good of the Leafs, or not.
The league only has 30 right-shooting D who are UFA next season. His currently salary is 3.1M, and at 29, he's steady in his every-other-year healthy production. He's a rare right-shooting D who can be relied upon to hit, block shots, and battle hard in front of the Leafs net.
Move him out?
Several teams (like Tampa Bay) need right-shooting D. He might be a very valuable asset to flip to a team desperate for a slightly overpaid bottom-pair right defenseman. Moving him would also free a roster spot for cheaper, younger right-shot defenseman Frank Corrado.
Should he stay or should he go?
He should go, especially if the Leafs get a good return for him, and can free up the cap space for, um, someone else, like... hmmmmm. What should his return be?