Friday, June 3, 2011

Blues lock up another piece, reward Polak with long-term contract

Defenseman was eligible to be RFA in July, gets five-year deal

ST. LOUIS -- When Roman Polak signed a two-year contract prior to the 2009-10 season, the Blues' message was simple: go out and prove yourself.

If Polak could prove he was worthy of a four- or five-year deal, he would reap the benefits and get that long-term security, both in length and monetarily.

Mission accomplished, because the Blues felt like the native of Ostrava, Czech Republic proved himself both on and off the ice, so they also rewarded the rugged defenseman with monetary security as well as length.

The Blues and Polak came to terms on a five-year contract that will pay the 25-year-old $13.75 million, with a $2.75 million cap hit per season. Polak's contract will pay him $2 million the first season, $2.45 million in the second season and $3.1 million in each of the final three seasons. The first two seasons are based on the fact Polak would have still been under restricted free agency status; the final three would have made him an unrestricted free agent had be been available.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong made the announcement Thursday just two days after the team resigned center Patrik Berglund to a two-year contract.

"We're really excited about where he's at in his career," Armstrong said of Polak. "We have him locked up through what we believe is the prime of his career. It's an exciting time for our organization and an exciting time for Roman.

"When I look at our defensive corps now, we have control over ... either via contract or via restricted free agency three of our top four defensemen for the next five years. That's exciting to know that we have something we can continue to build around and continue to grow on."

Despite a season in which Polak missed a good chunk of games due to a lacerated wrist injury, the 6-foot-1, 227-pound defenseman is an asset the Blues simply couldn’t subject to offer sheets. Polak would have been a restricted free agent on July 1.

"With regards to Roman, he's defined himself on what type of player he can be, what he's going to do for the next five years," Armstrong said. "We ask him to do a very difficult job on a nightly basis, playing against the other team's top players and make life difficult for them. He's a prime time penalty killer.

"My belief is to reward those guys that have to do the real dirty work, when you have to expose yourself nightly to shot-blocking and playing that physical way. I was glad to see that we could put some security to Roman. Now he can go out here and do that knowing without anything on the back of his mind contractually he can go out and play that hard style game that we need to him to play to be successful."

Polak played in 55 games last season, recording 12 points on three goals and nine assists along with 33 penalty minutes. He's played in 227 career NHL games, all with the Blues, posting 49 points (eight goals, 41 assists) along with 143 penalty minutes.

"Roman has defined himself now," Armstrong said. "I use that word defined in definition for our younger players. I have a strong belief on what he's going to be. He's going to be a primary, shutdown defenseman. He's proven he can play in that role. He's playing in our top four. We know the minutes he's going to log. There's real definition in his game right now."

With the Blues' ownership still in limbo, there was rational discussion whether to offer any players long-term deals at the present time. But Armstrong made clear that Dave Checketts and SCP Worldwide signed off on the deal.

The Blues could have gone the shorter route and offer up a two-year deal, but then they would expose Polak after the second season and leave him in UFA territory.

"Getting Roman signed for two years was certainly an option, but then we were going to be in competition at that point with 29 other teams to secure him as an unrestricted free agent," Armstrong said. "We just felt as an organization there was no need to go down that road if we didn't have to knowing what was there with Roman, knowing how he has competed for the team and how he will compete moving forward."

There were reports that the team also had come to terms with forward Vladimir Sobotka, also a RFA. But Armstrong said negotiations are still ongoing with a number of RFA's on the team and no deal has been reached with Sobotka yet.

"I think Vladi is an excellent young player and really has all the qualities that we want in our organization from tenacity and competitiveness," Armstrong said. "I'm hoping that in the near future we'll be having another (announcement) where we're talking about his signing, but ... until there's something signed in the NHL, you don't have an agreement."

The Blues still have a number of RFA's to get under contract, which could affect what the team does or does not do at the upcoming draft in Minnesota.

"It doesn't really affect the draft," Armstrong insisted. "It does affect moving forward to free agency and in a small way, at the draft, because now we know as you're putting your team together for the 2011-12 season, I know what we're going to be paying Roman Polak, I know exactly what we're paying Patrik Berglund as I know what we're paying other players under contract.

"It does add more pieces to the overall puzzle of not only how next year's team is going to be constructed but how the payroll's going to be allotted. It does help in that fashion. Then you get into July and depending on what we want to do via the unrestricted free agency market, we do have more information of committed dollars."

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