After being an unexpected signing on July 1, 2018 and serving in a vital role during the 2018-19 season, the Dallas Stars re-signed defenseman Roman Polak in June. The defenseman is excited to be back for another year and help the team take the next step in any way that he can.
Dallas Stars fans hold differing thoughts and opinions when it comes to defenseman Roman Polak. And when you try to weigh those opinions, there’s really only one thing you can do: backtrack and cover all of the pertinent information before trying to come to a conclusion.
So let’s step back for a moment to two summers ago and work our way forward.
On July 1, 2018, the Stars signed Roman Polak to a one-year deal with an AAV of $1.3 million. While the signing didn’t handcuff the team or affect its cap space in any significant way, it was unexpected.
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The Dallas defense finished the 2017-18 season with some of the best defensive numbers in the NHL, the team’s problems revolved around depth scoring, and there was still a hope that John Tavares would sign with the Stars after meeting with the team in the week leading up to free agency.
So, why sign Polak? Was there a substantial need for him? Didn’t the Stars already have a solid NHL defensive group in place for the 2018-19 season?
There were plenty of questions revolving around the move. When asked about the signing, GM Jim Nill had a brief answer.
“You look at our defense,” Nill said shortly after the signing was announced. “We’ve got the Honkas, the Heiskanens, the Klingbergs. It’s nice that he’s a big, heavy body, he’s got great experience and just brings another veteran presence to our dressing room.”
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Following his addition to the roster, the next question revolved around where he would fit in the lineup. Serving as a seventh defender that could play 15-17 minutes a night and skate in 50-60 regular season games seemed to be a likely landing spot for the veteran defender as training camp approached.
But that assumption required a quick revision in September when the Stars announced that Stephen Johns would miss the beginning of the 2018-19 regular season with post-traumatic headaches. With his absence on the right side, Polak filled in along with newly-acquired defender Connor Carrick in time for opening night on Oct. 4.
What followed was a combination of highs and lows, impressive and frustrating moments, and ups and downs in Polak’s performance on the ice. By the time it was all said and done, Polak played in 77 regular season games and registered one goal, nine points, and a +6 rating in an average of 19:10 on the ice per game. He also logged 191 hits and blocked 152 shots.
Polak also played in all 13 of the Stars’ postseason games, tallying one assist and a -2 rating in 19:29 of average ice time.
And after falling one goal short of a trip to the Western Conference Finals, the Dallas Stars entered the 2019 offseason with a handful of free agency questions. One of those involved the future of Polak, who was set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
But Nill was quick to answer that question by signing Polak to an extension on June 6. The contract is for one year and carries an AAV of $1.75 million.
“I was excited,” Polak said at Stars training camp on Sunday. “We were talking after the season that we wanted to get it done, and we did. I kind of learned over the years in hockey that you never know until you actually sign a contract. I talked to Jim [Nill] after the season and he said he would do everything he can to sign me. I was kind of relieved right after the season.”
Polak was one of a handful of pending free agents on the Dallas Stars blue line as the 2019 summer approached, joining names like Esa Lindell, Taylor Fedun, Marc Methot, Ben Lovejoy, and Julius Honka on the list.
And shortly after his extension was announced, a similar question from the 2018 offseason arose: where would Polak slot in for the 2019-20 regular season?
For the majority of the 2018-19 campaign, Polak slotted into the second pairing alongside rookie Miro Heiskanen. And while Polak provided size, toughness, and grit to an otherwise small defensive group centered around speed, he had his fair share of mistakes on the second pairing. His rugged defensive style didn’t mesh well with Heiskanen’s offensive speed, and that led to some bumps in the road.
With the top three of Esa Lindell, John Klingberg, and Miro Heiskanen set in stone for the year ahead, pinning Polak on the third pairing and allowing him to play a physical, shutdown role seemed to be the best idea. It would allow Polak to play according to his strengths and not put him in a position where he would struggle to succeed and produce on a nightly basis. Giving him 50-60 games and 14-16 minutes a night seemed like a feasible and logical spot for the 33-year-old.
And while his role might change yet again with the uncertainty surrounding the status of Stephen Johns, Polak is prepared to step in and help the team in any way as they try and build on a successful 2018-19 push.
“I think we were a pretty good team [last year] and now we’ve been together for a year,” Polak said. “Now is the time to be able to do it, be ready from the beginning, and be even better than last year.”
The thing about Polak is that on top of bringing physicality and a rugged mentality to the Dallas Stars blue line and penalty kill, he also brings a veteran mindset and leadership qualities to the locker room. Before signing with the Stars, Polak spent time in Toronto, San Jose, and St. Louis. Those stops included seven combined trips to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and one trip to the Stanley Cup Final with the Sharks in 2016.
He’s known for being a good communicator both on and off the ice and should continue providing a valuable veteran presence in the midst of a young blue line in the year ahead.
There’s a reason why Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery paired Polak with Heiskanen for the majority of the 2018-19 season and even paired 2018 first-round pick Thomas Harley with the veteran in the Stars’ first preseason game on Monday night.
“I think you’re right,” Montgomery said of the trend. “Roman is good, his communication is excellent, and having someone that’s 240 pounds out there with our first-round pick makes sense to me.”
In addition to re-signing Polak, the Stars also covered some of their other bases on July 1. They signed veteran defenseman Andrej Sekera to a one-year deal to give the team another potential top-four option and bolstered their offensive attack by signing forwards Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry.
Polak played with Pavelski during his time with the Sharks and even made a run to the Cup with the former captain in 2016. And as the defender sees it, Pavelski is simply another valuable veteran leader with certain skills that will help in boosting the Stars.
“He’s a veteran, he knows how to play the game, he’s a great guy in the dressing room, and he can score goals,” Polak said. “He’s a very smart player and he’s always in the right spot tipping the pucks and scoring goals. He knows how to play and he’s been there. He’s a winner and he’s been in the winning situations all of the time. He brings a lot to our team.”
But as for the veteran defender gearing up for his second season with the Dallas Stars, he’s ready to help out in any way necessary. If that means spending the majority of the year on the third pairing alongside Jamie Oleksiak and forming a shutdown pairing built on aggression and size, so be it. If that means killing a big penalty in the third period to maintain a narrow lead, he’ll be ready. And if that means serving as a seventh man at times and providing advice and lessons to other defensemen, he’ll be on it.
A player like that can be difficult to find at times, but Roman Polak fits the role well. And with the high expectations being set for the Stars as the 2019-20 season gets into motion, he’s focusing on what he can control and looking to help the team in any way possible as they try and craft a run at the Stanley Cup Final.
“It doesn’t matter,” Polak said about the expectations. “I’ve been in those situations, so I’m just kind of focusing on myself and doing my job. Everything will just kind of come naturally.”