Polak brings beef to Maple Leafs’ blue line

Dave Nonis joins the Hockey Central panel to talk about potential moves that weren't made at the draft, and what kind of activity can be expected of the Toronto Maple Leafs come July 1st.

While we couldn’t say exactly what they are, the guess here is every member of the St. Louis Blues has his own personal favourite anecdote that exemplifies just how strong Roman Polak is.

The moral to the story of Polak being traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Carl Gunnarsson (and a fourth-round pick) is quite clear: the Leafs, forever in search of a stiffer blue line, like Polak’s stout game, while the already-rugged Blues like Gunnarsson’s smoother approach and the fact he can play more manageable minutes on their back end.

Polak, who stands six feet even and weights a girthy 236 pounds, also brings a desired right-hand shot to the Leafs corps, providing a little balance. And, as mentioned, Polak arrives with a reputation as one tough hombre. His skills likely won’t help Toronto possess the puck more, but when it comes to moving bodies from the front of the net—like the big Bruin ones that screened James Reimer late in a certain Game 7 meltdown—Polak’s presence will be appreciated.

David Clarkson vs. Roman Polak

What’s less clear is how the Leafs will deploy their defence now that Gunnarsson is a Blue.

For years, the 27-year-old Swede was asked to punch above his weight by playing beside captain Dion Phaneuf on the top pair, usually against other teams’ best lines. (You could argue Phaneuf himself is out of his depth in that role, but that’s a story for another day.) With “Gunner” gone, someone else will be asked to step up and fill the 20 minutes per game he’s been good for the past three seasons. While we don’t yet know who that will be—Morgan Reilly, perhaps?—you can bet it won’t be Polak. The 28-year-old Czech has seen his ice time decrease for the past six seasons in St. Louis, where he averaged just over 17 minutes a night this past year.

That’s likely what Gunnarsson will be looking at in a reduced role with the Blues. St. Louis is set with a top pair of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, while slick Kevin Shattenkirk is also counted on heavily. That will leave Gunnarsson and his understated puck-moving abilities free to line up against lesser competition, something that wasn’t the case in Toronto.

While neither player is likely to move the needle hugely for their new teams, there is an obvious fit on either end of the deal. And before next season is too old, Leafs players will have their own stories about Polak’s hulking strength.