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Eastern Conference

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ School of Hard Knocks: Class of 2018 (Part 1)

Mike Babcock would definitely be one intimidating professor. (h/t

There’s been a few players on the Maple Leafs’ roster this season who have drifted in and out of the lineup at Mike Babcock’s will.

Babcock has made some interesting moves this season in regards to roster decisions, however, his pedigree seemingly more than justifies his reasoning. The fans have also bought into most of the coach’s changes since the Leafs are a winning team for the first time in years.

So who are these misfits? Why have they been treated like this? Is Stephane Robidas still on an island? Most of these questions will be answered below.

Hard Knock Graduate #1: Josh Leivo

If all of the players mentioned in this article were really apart of a graduating class from the School of Hard Knocks, Josh Leivo would be the valedictorian. He made his Leafs debut on October 10th, 2013 and has only seen 56 games of NHL action during the five seasons he’s played from that point.

When Leivo signed a one-year contract extension on November 17th, 2017 (US$925,000), he may have been the only one who wasn’t surprised.

Even with the amount of injuries the Leafs’ forward corps has experienced this season, Josh has only played 15 sporadic games while managing to record four points. He looked a lot better last year when he posted 10 points in 13 games.

It’s hard to get a read on what his NHL potential could be due to the lack of games Leivo has played. It’s really anyone’s guess as to what his future might hold.

Josh Leivo has had little to celebrate as a Maple Leaf, however, that hasn’t stopped him from remaining positive.

(h/t Toronto Star)

Hard Knock Graduate #2: Roman Polak

There’s an immeasurable amount of criticism all over the hockey world surrounding Roman Polak. The negative feedback is ironic in a sense because Polak looks like the senior you avoided making eye-contact with in the hallway as a freshman. If there was a list of people you should never say mean things to, Roman should and would be at the top.

The most popular arguments focus on his bad foot speed and/or the fact that he’s potentially taking away a roster spot from a younger, more deserving defenceman.

Although one or both of those beliefs may hold some truth, he’s just a player that Babcock has grown very attached to. That commitment was definitely shown when the Leafs surprisingly opted to demote Andreas Borgman to the AHL, instead of Polak, after Travis Dermott solidified his niche on the team.

One seemingly bright spot of Polak’s game is his penalty killing ability. He is one of three Leafs defencemen (the other two being Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev) who averages over two minutes of short-handed ice time per game.

His relative CF% while penalty killing (2.6%) is much better than Hainsey’s (-5.8%) or Zaitsev’s (-5.9%). Roman also had a solid showing in last year’s playoffs. He only got into two games since he broke his leg during the second one, however, he managed to rack up a combined nine hits, four blocked shots, and zero giveaways in 17:37 ATOI.

It looks like he isn’t going anywhere come playoff time so you might as well cross your fingers and bask in the positives.

Roman Polak and Andreas Borgman have seen a lot of time together on the third defensive pairing this season.

(h/t Sportsnet)

Hard Knock Graduate #3: Andreas Borgman

Are you allowed to graduate from the School of Hard Knocks if you get demoted to the Hard Knocks Primary School mid-semester? We’ll give Andreas Borgman a passing grade. After all, it has been a term of rough luck for the Swedish transfer student.

Borgman seemed like a dream come true. After winning the SHL Rookie of the Year award in 2016-17 he signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Leafs (US$925,000) on May 16th, 2017 and made the roster out of training camp the following October.

Andreas may have hit a speed bump here and there during his first half-season of NHL action, however, nothing seemed to be out of the norm in terms of how young defencemen develop. Suddenly, Dermott had forced his way into everyday action and there simply wasn’t a spot for Borgman any longer once Polak returned from injury.

There’s always the chance that Borgman will be recalled for the playoffs. His puck skills and poise were becoming more refined as the season progressed and you can never have too much back-end depth in the postseason. He was simply an unfortunate victim in the game of roster roulette.

For the first time in years, the Leafs have a plethora of blue line assets. The logjam problem is a new one for management, however, it’s certainly an enviable issue in the eyes of other NHL teams.

There will be three more ‘roster outcasts’ to observe during part two of this article.

Class dismissed.

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