Toronto Maple Leafs: Connor Carrick and Roman Polak competing for final spot on blueline

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 19: Tom Wilson
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 19: Tom Wilson /

After being a healthy scratch the past couple of games, it appears that Connor Carrick will get another chance to battle Roman Polak for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ final spot on the blueline.

It appears that Roman Polak does not have a firm grasp on the final spot on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ blueline, as Connor Carrick looks to be getting another opportunity on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.

Over the past two games the Leafs have not looked stellar defensively, part down to the inability to limit chances in their own end. Part of that is players like Nikita Zaitsev and Morgan Rielly getting back from injuries, but another reason is the defence not being able to drive possession.

There is no doubting that Travis Dermott has earned an extended look in the NHL, but the past couple of game have not been pretty and it could partially be related to who his defensive partner is. This could explain why Carrick is going to draw in for Polak, as it has been proven that Dermott is more effective playing with Carrick than Polak.

In the 69:43 minutes that he has played with Polak, Dermott’s CF% is 47.71 percent, while in the 48:37 with Carrick, Dermott’s CF% is 61.96 percent.

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While the sample size is not very big for Dermott, the fact of the matter is that Polak’s effect on other players on the Leafs justifies Mike Babcock not giving him a secured spot in the lineup.

People will point to Polak’s toughness and that he blocks shots and brings a physical presence especially on the penalty kill, but there is a case to made that other players do it more effectively.

In terms of blocked shots on the penalty kill, Zaitsev leads the way with 30, Ron Hainsey is second with 25 and Zach Hyman rounds out the top three with 17. Polak is fourth with eight blocks, so he doesn’t get his body in front of as many shots as people might think.

However, when it comes to shorthanded usage, Polak is sixth among Leafs’ players averaging 2:26 a night. That is a main reason Babcock continues to employ Polak, which has come at the cost of Carrick sitting out.

So how does Carrick get himself back into the lineup regularly? By doing what Dermott and Kasperi Kapanen have done. Play well enough that Babcock has no choice but to take the results over playing the veteran.

This is a reason why Matt Martin continues to sit in the pressbox, but it is not as simple for Babcock to do the same for Polak. Carrick has shown he can provide value in the lineup, but his skillset is different than the heavy physical game that Polak brings.

There will be people pointing to how Polak is used more so in the defensive zone, but his struggles to move the puck efficiently should not be ignored. There is room for a player to be physical and aggressive in his own end but if he cannot clear the zone then the opponent will take advantage, something the Leafs have been guilty of at times.

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At this point, there is no harm in creating internal competition for the final spot on the blueline and while Polak might be Babcock’s preferred choice, Carrick should take comfort in knowing he still has a chance.