Saturday, June 28, 2014

Blues-Leafs swap defensemen on second day of draft

St. Louis acquires Gunnarsson, fourth round pick for stay-at-home Polak

The Blues started quickly with their draft selections on the final day of the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia, and they finally pulled the trigger on a trade but one that wasn't necessarily expected.

The Blues wanted an offensive upgrade and perhaps a left-handed defenseman to play with Kevin Shattenkirk. They acquired Carl Gunnarsson from the Toronto Maple Leafs and a fourth round pick in this year's draft (No. 94) for fellow defenseman Roman Polak.

The 27-year-old Gunnarsson is a five-year veteran who was picked by the Leafs in the seventh round in 2007. He has 15 goals and 86 points in 304 career games and is coming off a three-goal, 17-point season in 80 games.
(Getty Images)
The Blues acquired defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (36) at the
NHL Draft on Saturday, sending Roman Polak to Toronto.

Gunnarsson, who is currently, in his homeland of Sweden, brings an element the Blues feel they need moving forward after their early playoff exit against the Chicago Blackhawks, when the Blues led the series 2-0 before dropping four in a row for the second straight postseason.

"I believe the game is very puck-oriented now," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said after the conclusion of the 2014 NHL Draft. "... Ken (Hitchcock) wants to use the middle of the ice. We want to make quick, direct passes and get up on the attack. I think Gunnarsson's into that. 

"This isn't something that's related to one playoffs. This is something that we're looking to improve our group of four defensemen and is something that we wanted to do. It's a left shot for a right shot as much as anything."

However, as reported by Toronto media, Gunnarsson is coming off what was termed "significant" hip surgery but reports concluded that Gunnarsson is recovering well and is expected to be ready for the start of training camp and the Blues are comfortable with that.

The trade is a virtual wash in salaries, as Gunnarsson has two years at a $3.15 cap hit remaining on the contract. He will make $3.15 million in salary during the upcoming season and $3.45 million in 2015-16. Polak is a $2.75 million cap hit over the next two seasons but will make $3.1 million in each of the next two seasons.

ESPN's Pierre LeBrun first reported that the Maple Leafs will retain $200,000 of cap hit in the trade.

The 28-year-old Polak, a sixth-round pick by the Blues in 2004, spent eight seasons in St. Louis and was a mainstay on the team's blue line since 2008. He made his NHL debut in the 2006-07 season.

Polak had 13 goals and 79 points in 424 career games over eight seasons.

The Blues are giving up physicality for a more fluid offensive puck-moving defenseman in the hopes the deal benefits both teams.

"It's a trade that I think works out really good for two teams," Armstrong said. "With the makeup of our team, we were looking for a left shot player that could compliment our group of three players in our top four of (Jay) Bouwmeester, (Alex) Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk. Gunnarsson's a player that's played with a top player in Dion Phaneuf and has been on the ice against top players the last few years and I know he's comfortable in that environment. In the NHL to get something of value, you have to give something of value and it was very difficult to part with Roman, someone who was drafted here and has played his entire career in the Blues' organization. An outstanding competitor and a better person off the ice, but in this industry, you have to give value to get value."

The Blues were reportedly in on conversations with the Ottawa Senators to acquire their captain, center Jason Spezza. But as was the case for the multiple teams involved, according to Sens GM Bryan Murray, those talks did not progress to a level for a deal.

"You're talking to 29 other managers on a consistent basis," Armstrong said, regarding the level of chatter on the draft floor and on the phone. "Things build up and can close up, but there's a lot of conversations this time of year. When you talk trade, somethings things happen, sometimes they don't. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Roman Polak (46) was drafted by the Blues in 2004 and spent his entire
eight-year career in St. Louis before being traded to Toronto on Saturday. 

"We saw Vancouver have an active and successful weekend making four or five trades. We were able to make a trade. Maybe we were looking to augment the roster (and) couldn't do it. For the teams that did it, there was the same amount of activity for all 30 teams. Some teams found matches, some teams didn't."

That's what makes the recent signing of restricted free agent Patrik Berglund (three years, $11.1 million in salary) important in the Blues' eyes should they not be able to strike a deal before the season starts or through free agency, which begins Tuesday.

Armstrong did say the Blues will look to improve through unrestricted free agency if that's the route they have to choose.

"We've had a chance to talk to some players," Armstrong said. "By getting Berglund signed was big for us now. We know what we have with him moving forward. If we can improve our team, we will. We're getting very precariously close to the upper (salary cap) limit again. That's the commitment that the ownership has given us. For us to be involved in the free agent market, we have to be aware of the cost of putting all these pieces that are in place."

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