HC Vítkovice Ridera, a Czech Republic hockey club of the Czech Extraliga, announced today that will sign current Dallas Stars defenseman Roman Polák to a long-term contract after his current contract with Dallas expires.
The agreement signals the end of Polák’s 14-year NHL career, as he plans to remain in the Czech Republic to finish his professional hockey career. In their press release, HC Vítkovice emphasized that this contract agreement does not affect Polák’s eligibility to return to finish the 2019-20 NHL season should play resume:
“Roman is still a Dallas player, so he has not been able to sign a player contract with us yet. However, we agreed that after fulfilling all the obligations that Roman follows from his still valid contract in the NHL, he will become a Vítkovice player. And I am very happy to announce that we have agreed on a long-term contract, “
However, there is a good chance that Polák chooses not to return for Phases 3 and 4 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan and instead opts to remain in the Czech Republic. In an interview with isport.cz, Polák likens returning to finish the NHL season would be like “prison,” and that he will try his best not to head back to North America:
“I am determined to stay at home. If I really had to finish it, I’d go. However, I will do everything I can to avoid it
The idea that I should jump on the ice after three weeks of training and start playing live. This is unimaginable at my age. Younger players may be able to do it, but I need two months before I get off the ground so I don’t have to do anything else.”
The NHL’s return-to-play format seems to only be one part of the decision, however. Polák expressed severe dissatisfaction of how this past season with Dallas turned out, specifically regrading his playing time and usage once Stephen Johns returned from injury:
“When Stephen Johns started playing again after two-year break caused by concussions, they gave him big ice time. And told me and Andrej Sekera, that we will be rotating. I play one game, he play another game....
...It was difficult to find motivation, because there doesn’t matter how well or badly I play; I won’t play next game in any case. And Andrej had the same opinion as me.”
What’s even more surprising is that even the Stars didn’t know this was coming — general manager Jim Nill told The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro that Polák had never spoke with him about not returning to Dallas to finish the season:
Nill said Polak has been on the Stars conference calls about return to play as well. He also said he can't force anyone to come back if they don't want to.— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) June 15, 2020
It’s worth wondering whether Polák would have opted to return to the Czech Republic had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic, or if he would have simply signed with another NHL team in free agency.
Polak's agent Allan Walsh declined comment.— Matthew DeFranks (@MDeFranks) June 15, 2020
Stars GM Jim Nill said he had not heard from Polak. When asked if Polak would be allowed to stay in Czech for Phases 3 and 4: "We can't make someone come back under their wishes. If anyone wants to stay home, that is their decision."
(Ed. note: One can’t help but also be reminded of Valeri Nichushkin’s comments about his playing time under Lindy Ruff back in 2014, and how that ended up coloring some outside perceptions of the young Russian winger. It is much, much less common to see a veteran defenseman say anything remotely critical about his playing time.)
Perhaps more will come out on this story down the road, but it seems at least possible that Polák has played his last game in an NHL uniform.