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Looking Back to the Maple Leafs - San Jose Sharks trades

Toronto did a deal with the Sharks, and while the Leafs are anticipating the picks they got out of it, the Sharks have three former Leafs going to the Stanley Cup Final.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

On February 22, 2016, the Leafs acquired San Jose's 2017 and 2018 second round picks and Raffi Torres for Roman Polak and Nick Spaling.

If we take this trade in isolation from the James Reimer trade, that's a huge return. If, as I do, you believe part of the take here is actually for Reimer, then it's not so magnificent.

These two former Leafs made the playoffs and are playing for the cup in a few days, so there's some good data to compare to see how they did in their new California home beyond just make it to the final.

The value of Reimer to the Sharks is obvious. One glance at the two teams in the Eastern Conference Final this year, and you understand why paying for the highest quality backup available was a wise insurance policy.

The value of the two depth players San Jose also added in a traditional move for a team heading to the playoffs is debatable.

First a look at Spaling as a Leaf and as a Shark:

Name Team Primary Points per 60 Corsi for per 60 Corsi against per 60 Time on Ice per Game Individual shots for per 60 Personal Shooting %
Nick Spaling TOR 0.44 46.8 58.3 11.7 5.42 3.2
S.J 0.40 43.8 50.4 11.1 7.13 6.9

There is a lot of sameness, but it's the one glaring difference that needs examination. How did Nick Spaling, the least gifted Leafs player on the team this year, go from Colorado Avalanche quality shots against to something almost tolerable? His usage is similar in San Jose, and it's not like they are generally great at shot suppression; the Sharks are middle of the pack for the league this season.

We know that Spaling's deployment in Toronto was extreme, a real rarity in the NHL, and he was played exclusively against top lines and had a large proportion of his faceoffs in the defensive zone. He's still a bottom sixer in San Jose, playing the eat the clock minutes, just not in such an extreme way.

In Toronto Spaling played with Joffrey Lupul and Daniel Winnik, two players better than him at shots against. In San Jose he plays with various players of varying quality, and the answer to that shift in shots against really seems to be variance. On some lines in San Jose, he was really terrible, while on others, he was really good. The average looks okay, but he was not driving that performance.

San Jose got exactly what they paid for in Spaling. He performed a little better with an easier ride, and he did exactly what they should have expected: spent a lot of time in his own end.

Why they wanted him is a better question. He's a conservative player who is not taking any offensive risks. Goals against don't happen when he's on the ice, but he adds nothing to the team. If all you want for your money ($2.2 million AAV) is to eat the clock, he can do that. It seems like he's very over priced for what he does, but then, these sorts of players often are.

Roman Polak is more complex.

Name Team Primary Points per 60 Corsi for per 60 Corsi against per 60 Time on Ice per Game Individual shots for per 60 Personal Shooting %
Roman Polak TOR 0.54 51.2 52.6 16.0 2.45 1.9
S.J 0.09 47.6 50.8 15.8 2.26 0.0

He is derided and despised by a lot of fans and also loved by fans who love big hits. He does add a genuinely unique physical dimension to the game, but that comes at the price of his temper, which San Jose paid for in this playoffs with foolish penalties. But all is forgiven when you're in the final.

Polak's usage is largely the same as in Toronto in terms of minutes, but the points dried right up, even as his shot suppression got better. His shot generation got worse too. That says quality of teammates to me.

Polak's defensive partner in San Jose has been Brenden Dillon almost exclusively. Dillon split time with a host of Sharks' defenders before they acquired Polak, and his results were mixed. He was great with Brent Burns! But that obviously wasn't how San Jose wanted to utilize Burns.

Even though Polak's only played 42 games for the Sharks, Dillon has more minutes on the ice with him than anyone else, and they've been good—not blow you away good, but they've done well where it matters and how it matters for the third pair.

They aren't on the ice for a lot of offence, and it shouldn't surprise that one of the forwards Polak plays the most with is Spaling. Spaling just kills his shots for. So do Chris Tierney and Dainius Zubrus.

When Polak is on the ice with Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward, he is flying in the offensive zone. He managed this on the Leafs playing behind some of their best forwards too, which is where that shots for number comes from in his Toronto games. He knows his place, and he supports good offence in a low-risk way very well. He's not Morgan Rielly, he's not even Matt Hunwick in terms of jumping into the play, but he can hold the line well.

He is actually better at offensive support than he is at playing in his own end. He's been okay for San Jose. Nothing to get excited about, and no, he's not going to do anything smart with the puck.

But for the Sharks, he's been a success. He's slotted into their lineup well, is good with his partner and can cope with their less than stellar fourth line like he's had a lot of practice at it. When the bottom pair gets a shift with better guys, he floats up with them rather than anchoring them to the sea floor like a lot of third pairing guys do.

I think the Sharks did very well to get Polak and Reimer, and Spaling isn't going to sink them. The Leafs got some good picks out of it all, and really, everyone's a winner here. Especially the guys going to the Stanley Cup Final.

When that's all over, and the free agent frenzy starts, Reimer and Polak both are going to cash in, one more than the other. Spaling may even find someone who thinks his brand of conservatism is worth overpaying for.