While it may not have been The Curious Case of Vladimir Sobotka, the closing of t he Roman Polak Door in St. Louis sure does appear to very curious, at least on the surface. While most hockey pundits had speculated about the Blues wanting to get tougher on the blue line this offseason, the Blues traded away one of their toughest blueliners for another puck moving, transitional style defenseman. On the surface, the move seemed to add another draft pick and a player better suited for the possession style game the Blues' coaching staff desires though it might appear to soften the Blues blueline in the process.
Many of the Blues fans will always have fond memories of Polak, especially of his "door" being opened, but Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is living in the now. His actions continue to support his statements regarding putting a premium on playoff performance and not being afraid to give value to get value. So what drove this trade?
Was it Polak's meager playoff performances of 2 points in 25 playoff games while having a gaudy -11 plus/minus rating? Perhaps, though Gunnarson's playoff resume is much smaller and rather questionable having 1 assist in seven games and a terrible -7 plus/minus rating. It certainly wasn't age or contract given how similar each are, especially with Toronto eating part of Gunnarsson's cap hit. Was it the fourth round draft choice? Perhaps, but some interesting things can be seen when looking into each player further.
From 2009 until now, Polak has seen his regular season average total ice time decrease year by year. Did you know that he ranked 5th on the Blues in ice time in 2014 among regular defenseman, down from 3rd in 2009? Did you know that his even-strength ice time mirrored that decline also going from 3rd to 5th? He lost over a 1 minute per game on both averages last year. His playoff ice time also saw similar declines with last year showing over a minute and a half per game decline in both. His short-handed ice time ranking was pretty consistent at 4th, a ranking that I thought would have been higher. What surprised me even more were Gunnarsson's average ice time statistics.
Did you know that Gunnarsson was either first or second in short-handed ice time on the Leafs over the last three years? Did you know that Gunnarsson has consistently averaged more than two more minutes a game than Polak over the last three years? How about that Gunnarsson ranked third in even strength ice time on the Leafs over the last three years? I would never have guessed that Gunnarsson averaged more short-handed and even-strength ice time than Polak.
Perhaps this deal was made to bring on a player who could log more minutes overall and was deemed to be better on the penalty kill. Perhaps the team felt it needed to add a player who can log more minutes so they can reduce Leopold's minutes as he continues to age or to limit Cole's minutes as he eases into a regular role. Perhaps they really believe that his better puck moving skills will help increase the offense or maybe this is just an added bonus. Perhaps they really saw a deterioration in Polak's play and saw this as a way of improving the team. We'll never know but I must admit that I liked this deal better after looking into more of the details of each player.