While the Toronto Maple Leafs have avoided making major changes to their crop of forwards this summer, fans will notice a few new faces in prominent places on the blue line come the fall.
One of those faces will be Roman Polak, who joined the Leafs via trade this off-season. The native of Ostrava, Czech Republic spent the previous eight seasons playing for the St. Louis Blues. Toronto acquired his services in exchange for long-time defender Carl Gunnarsson and a fourth-round pick in this year’s entry draft.
Polak has two years left on his existing contract from St. Louis, which carries an annual cap hit of $2.75 million. This is slightly less than the $2.95 million annual cap hit Gunnarsson represents for the next two seasons.
In terms of offensive production, Polak appears extremely limited. He’s never cracked the 25-point mark in his career, registering a career-high 21 points (4 goals, 17 assists) across 78 games during the 2009-2010 campaign. This isn’t really a problem for the Leafs, however, since Gunnarsson was never a heavy points producer either and the team is banking on big offensive performances from young defencemen Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly this season, which isn’t unrealistic.
Instead, Polak brings a certain physical presence to the team that the Leafs have sorely lacked over the years. It was hoped Mike Komisarek, Mark Fraser and Tim Gleason could’ve brought this toughness at different times, but a variety of factors – inconsistency, injuries, old age – always trumped expectations.
At 28 years old, Polak has plenty of gas left in his tank and he’s been fairly healthy over the span of his career. This is all the Leafs need from a bruiser who’ll probably skate on the team’s second or third defensive unit depending on the future contract status of Cody Franson.
Averaging 17:50 minutes of action per game last season, Polak shouldn’t expect to see anymore playing time in Toronto. However, he can expect to land in the penalty box at roughly the same rate or even higher since this’ll be his true role on the team: he’s the new muscle in town.