It wasn’t quite as big as the anticipated Jason Spezza move, but the Blues did in fact make some noise in the draft, trading defenseman Roman Polak to Toronto on Saturday in exchange for defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and the No. 94 overall draft pick. The Blues would later use the pick acquired to draft amateur goaltender Ville Husso.
Both pieces of the trade are under contract through the 2015-16 season. Polak, the cheaper of the two swapped players, is slotted to make $3.1 million in each of the next two years, while Gunnarsson will make $3.15 million next season and $3.45 million in his final contract year.
Gunnarsson also holds a slightly higher cap hit at $3.15 million compared to Polak’s $2.75 million. However, as part of the deal, Toronto absorbed $200,000 of Gunnarsson’s cap hit. With the Leafs’ retention, Gunnarsson’s cap hit for next season will actually be $2.95 million.
Polak, 28, had spent the last seven seasons holding down a spot on the Blues’ blueline. The strong, defensive defenseman was found mostly on the Blues’ bottom pairing, but was an everyday player for the club.
The trading of Polak is the shake-up of the defensive core that the Blues had been rumored to be looking to make. St. Louis, a team that was looking to tweak their defensive group, essentially swapped defensive types with Toronto.
Heading into the offseason, it was widely known that Blues general manager Doug Armstrong would be scavenging the market for a left-handed defenseman to slot with Kevin Shattenkirk. Shattenkirk did not have a partner inked into place last season, splitting time with the likes of Carlo Colaiacovo and Jordan Leopold. But the Blues wanted something more solidified this season. Gunnarsson gives them that solidification.
As a six-foot-two, 196-pound defenseman, Gunnarsson has spent five NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs, accumulating 86 points (15 goals, 71 assists) and a plus/minus rating of plus-15. The 27-year old has seven more points than Polak in 120 fewer games.
Gunnarsson had recently been the partner to star defenseman Dion Phaneuf in Toronto, and had the Leafs’ best plus/minus rating last season (plus-12).
The Swedish defenseman is, however, coming off of an offseason surgery to repair a hip flexor. Gunnarsson underwent the surgery in May after battling the hip injury for more than a year. Before having the surgery, Gunnarsson tried electroacupuncture to alleviate the pain. When the therapy didn’t work, surgery was deemed necessary.
Despite the procedure, Gunnarsson is progressing nicely and is expected to be ready for the start of training camp.