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Roman Polak — A Sound Defensive Signing for Stars

The 32-year-old veteran was not the free agent Stars fans had in mind, but does that mean he was a bad signing?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs
If the Stars get a little bit of this next season, this thing just might work out okay.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

So, Roman Polak, huh? While the rest of the league was off signing the likes of John Tavares, Paul Stastny, and Ilya Kovalchuk, GM Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars went out and hooked a 32-year-old defender formerly of the Toronto Maple Leafs. To say the announcement bamboozled Stars fans (at that point still entertaining faint hopes as a dark horse in the Tavares sweepstakes) would be something of an understatement. In fact, it seemed to prompt a wave of half-baked hot takes.

Valid takes, right? Over the course of a playing career spanning 12 years, the Czech defender has amassed the following stats through 688 games played — 25 goals, 102 assists, 127 total points, and a plus/minus rating of -8. All of this while averaging 18:58 time on ice. Those are Rob Scuderi numbers, for those of you keeping track at home. Which begs the question — who in their right mind jumps out in front of the market to secure Tim Gleason on the first day of free agency? Is that even a thing?

The last time Polak registered either a positive Corsi for or a positive Fenwick was during a six-game cameo in 2007-2008. In fact, his Corsi For (EV) has bettered fifty percent exactly once (50.1% in 2011-2012). Fenwick (EV) is a little kinder. From 2011 to 2013 he racked up three consecutive years in the black (52.5%, 51.5%, 51.2%) and then registered a fourth in 2015 (50.9%). His profile doesn’t exactly scream “must have,” and yet the Stars were, apparently, eager.

Why, then? What possible story exists beyond what appears to be a catastrophic mistake? Being completely honest, that was my intention when I sat down to write this piece. It had to be a mistake. Why would the Dallas Stars sign Polak?

To understand, let’s start with Polak’s biggest number — 688 games played. As of his signing, the Dallas Stars’ roster contained six defensemen: John Klingberg (303 GP), Stephen Johns (150 GP), Esa Lindell (157 GP), Julius Honka (58 GP), and Marc Methot (615 GP). Barring some other signing (perhaps they bring Dan Hamhuis and his 1031 GP back into the fold), that’s a group light on experience. Cast whatever aspersions you’d like, bad hockey players do not tease 700 games in the league, especially not in 2018.

This is about more than just experience, however. Polak averaged 2:30 shorthanded time on ice on the league’s 11th best penalty kill last season (Toronto at 81.4%). No, Dallas was not far off that mark (14th at 80.8%), but that penalty kill was fueled in large part by Hamhuis (2:40), and Greg Pateryn (2:35). While “The Plan” certainly includes continued improvement from Jonns (2:13) and Lindell (1:54), as well as better health from Methot (2:08), that is an awful lot having to go exactly right. Insurance makes sense.

Which brings us to the last two significant numbers: one and $1.3 million. As in, Roman Polak’s salary and contract term as a Dallas Star. While perhaps a premium for failing to produce better options internally (and that is an entirely different article), that contract does not represent bad value in the 6/7 slot. If Polak plays well, or provides valuable experience without getting crushed, the Stars have a nice, affordable asset on their hands. If he does not, there is literally no consequence (beyond money) to walking away.

One final point to mull over. From Stéphane Robidas to Trevor Daley to Alex Goligoski to Kevin Connauton to Brenden Dillon to Jamie Oleksiak to Nicklas Grossman to Jyrki Jokipakka, the Dallas Stars of recent memory have been an overcrowded, miscast mess on the backline. Prospects have been blocked, positive contributors have been stretched, and the roster has been a near disaster.

This is a team that has been able to find 58 games across two seasons for Julius Honka, and in so doing managed to learn basically nothing about whether or not his immense promise is going to pay off at the NHL level. Well, as things stand currently, there is absolutely nothing blocking Honka, save his own play. There is no expense to justify with Roman Polak, no place to find. He is there to be the next man up, the backup plan, and to provide a little seasoning along the way.

Roman Polak is not a “sexy” signing. He is not going to unlock the second power play unit. Roman Polak is, however, a rational depth signing for a team starting to figure things out. He carries no consequence. All in all, that’s not a bad deal.