Everyone covering the Leafs practice today says Roman Polak is in on the third pair with Travis Dermott, and one of Andreas Borgman or Connor Carrick is out.
Polak back in tonight, Babcock won't say who sits though Carrick and Borgman were last D-men off the ice in morning skate.— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) February 5, 2018
Okay so, problem number one is that Polak went on IR on January 31, at least according to CapFriendly, so unless they’ve backdated his illness somehow, that’s not seven days ago, and he shouldn’t be eligible to come off until Wednesday.
Problem number two is if he is successfully activated off of IR, someone has to do more than sit. The active roster would be at 24, and someone would have to be moved to the AHL. The easiest way to solve that is to “send” Andreas Borgman down, since he doesn’t need waivers. If they like, they could send him for real, and have him spend some time in the AHL playing the top minutes Dermott was getting.
The other thing about Borgman is that with 22 more games in the NHL, regular season or playoffs, he loses that waiver exemption, so there’s a good ancillary benefit, with Dermott playing so well, to have him spend a few weeks in the minors.
That isn’t the rotation of young talent that Mike Babcock had originally planned, but he needs to clean out his excess wingers if he wants to run nine defencemen or even eight.
Speaking of, while no one would answer the defence roster moves questions today, Josh Leivo met the press and said exactly what you’d expect: He wants to play, would prefer that to be on the Leafs, but he wants in NHL games.
Now, as to why Polak is in and not Carrick, I think that’s obvious. And if your mind went to phrases like “coaches’ toys” or “security blanket” fair enough. But it’s been very obvious that Babcock likes the pairing of Morgan Rielly and Ron Hainsey specifically for the on-ice coaching that Hainsey provides, and for the fact that comes in a voice that isn’t his. He’s been very honest that players tune out the coach sometimes, and that’s a natural process to be expected. The veterans on the ice are there for reasons ignored when people get upset by the roster choices that don’t favour youth as a deciding factor in all cases.
In an ideal world, the Leafs would magic up a top pairing right-shooting defender and move Hainsey to that mentor role on the third pair. It would be good for Borgman, it would be good for Dermott, and that would be a very lovely 8-man defence setup with Polak there for injury replacement.
We don’t live in that world. Polak is who the Leafs have to fill that role.
Another reason, as stated by Babcock, for Polak drawing right back in is his role on the PK. Dermott played a very small amount of PK while Polak was out, and that left Nikita Zaitsev, coming off an injury, and Ron Hainsey, perennially overworked, to carry the load, and they weren’t very good at it.
Listen to him yourself, at 4 minutes on the video, because most people reporting on this seemed to have not been able to fit the part in about how he can use Polak there since Dermott moves the puck so well.
The implication there, and this is me reading in, is that with Carrick, there’s two many puck movers and not enough defenders. And I think that’s true. It’s also a problem in the offensive zone, and it’s the same tension that exists with Borgman and Carrick.
Looking at the team from the front end where the important players are, getting the young defenders like Borgman and Dermott to maximize their potential has to be a priority.
So that all leads me to my real speculation on the day, not who is going down to fix the roster numbers, but could the Leafs find a Polak+ sort of player out there to play his role, just with better five-on-five results? Babcock barely uses Polak at even strength when there aren’t injuries, so if the star 1RD can’t be found, maybe looking for a better 3RD who has the right skillset for that pairing makes a lot of sense.
Okay, commence complaining about Polak now, and we’ll update when we have a final answer on the lineup.
Well, there you go, somehow the IR got sorted out, and Brogman is off to the Marlies for a while.