Blues deal Polak for veteran defenseman and 4th-round pick

News-DemocratJune 28, 2014 

Like a lot of Doug Armstrong moves, Saturday's trade that sent St. Louis Blues veteran defenseman Roman Polak to Toronto for defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and a fourth-round pick wasn't one that many saw coming.

The Blues wound up with Gunnarsson in the deal and used the fourth-round pick on Ville Husso, a goaltending prospect from Finland.

"It was obviously a difficult decision to move a player that we have so much respect for," Armstrong said of Polak, a sixth-round draft pick in 2004 and played for his native Czech Republic at the 2010 Winter Olympics. "He's been part of our group since his draft day. Roman's been a warrior for us. He was our strongest player with real strong ability in front of the net and in the corners, but you have to give something of value to get something of value."

Polak, 28, had 13 goals and 79 points in 424 games with the Blues, including two assists in 25 playoff games.

Gunnarsson, 27, was Toronto's seventh-round pick in 2007. The left-handed defenseman from Sweden has 15 goals and 86 points in the NHL and had three goals and 17 points in 80 games last season.

Armstrong likes the addition because he believes Gunnarsson's left-handed shot adds even more versatility to the Blues' top four defense grouping with Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and perhaps a pairing with Kevin Shattenkirk.

"I think it gives the coaches the ability to play him with Shattenkirk or Pietrangelo," Armstrong said. "It provides some flexibility for us and it creates options."

Gunnarsson is comfortable playing against top forwards and also was a big part of Toronto's penalty kill.

"We wanted to add a left-shot defense that could play in our top four, someone accustomed to playing with and against the other top players," Armstrong said. "He played with top players and against top players and that's what we need."

Armstrong also is on record about giving former first-round draft pick Ian Cole a chance to crack the starting lineup.

Gunnarsson (6-foot-2, 196 pounds) has two years remaining on his contract with salaries of $3.15 million and $3.45 million, while Polak's remaining two years are for $2.75 million per season.

ESPN's Pierre LeBrun reported that $200,000 of Gunnarsson's salary would be retained by Toronto.

"This is split right down the middle, the player costs to both teams are the same," Armstrong said. "You have to give up something of true value to get something of true value."

In an interview with a Toronto radio station, Gunnarsson said he is progressing on schedule after undergoing hip surgery in April.

"I've been back in Sweden for a bit here," he said during the interview. "Rehab, staying in touch with trainers and strength coach."

Gunnarsson seemed happy to be joining the Blues and looked forward to playing with another organization.

"They called and we talked a bit, everyone's kind of busy now with the draft," he said. "They seem excited to have me over and they wanted to check my status. I told them I'm real excited to come over. I was happy to come to a team like St. Louis."

New Toronto president and former Blues star Brendan Shanahan likes the hard edge and physicality of Polak.

"He makes people pay a price," Shanahan told the Canadian Press. "He's honest but he's tough. He's a hard-worker, he's a low-maintenance guy."

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at 239-2454, nsanders@bnd.com or follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders

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