Leafs Trade Gunnarsson For Polak

Hey, the Leafs finally did it! They made a multi-asset trade to grab immediate help! That is, if you consider a slight downgrade, retained salary, and giving up a draft pick “immediate help”. In a surprise move, the Toronto Maple Leafs have traded Carl Gunnarsson and a 4th round pick for Roman Polak. Toronto will also retain $200,000 in Gunnarsson’s Salary.

Tale of The Tape

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Gunnarsson 12/13 37 1 14 15 14 28 3.6 787 21:17
Polak 12/13 48 1 5 6 48 39 2.6 884 18:25
Gunnarsson 13/14 80 3 14 17 34 48 6.3 1553 19:25
Polak 13/14 72 4 9 13 71 83 4.8 1248 17:20

Player CF% CF% rel OISH% OISV% PDO ZS% ZS rel QoC QoT Partner
Gunnarsson 12/13 44.4 0.4 11.1 928 1039 39.8 -6.7 29 27.3 Phaneuf (40.7%)
Polak 12/13 49.7 -3.4 6.5 908 973 47.3 -5.5 27.9 26.1 Russell (53.2%)
Gunnarsson 13/14 40.1 -4 10 933 1033 38.3 -3.5 30 30.3 Phaneuf (75.8%)
Polak 13/14 49.4 -5.8 7.3 917 989 46.2 -8 27.7 25.2 Cole (39.4%)

There’s nothing here to suggest that Roman Polak is in any way better than Carl Gunnarsson. Gunnarsson was a much more productive player in 12/13, and a slightly more productive one this year. Gunnarsson had worse direct possession numbers, but if you take into account the difference between a tire fire and a Presidents Trophy winning defensive-oriented team, his relative numbers come out ahead as well. This also all happens while facing a higher quality of competition; Gunnarsson being among the league’s stiffest in that sense over the past couple of years.

On the other hand, it’s not as lopsided of a gap as it looks at first glance. Polak, much like Gunnarsson, gets some pretty stiff zone starts, especially compared to the rest of his St. Louis teammates, which probably play into his possession numbers. The two are also on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of the percentages landing in their favour. Gunnarsson is coming off his second consecutive 1030+ PDO year. Above on-ice shooting percentages have probably played into the offensive advantage that he has, and I can’t imagine having a goaltending that’s 16-20 points weaker has helped Polak very much.

Also, quality of competition is one thing, but teammates play a factor too. Gunnarsson’s main partner in the last two years, especially this year, has been Dion Phaneuf, while Polak has been scattered but had Kris Russell and Ian Cole as his primaries. Neither of these guys are terrible, but they’re also both not close to Phaneuf’s calibre.

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How Should One Feel?

Despite trying to play devils advocate here, I do believe the Leafs come out behind on this deal overall.

First and foremost, Gunnarsson is probably the better defenceman of the two. Even with a few things coming out in his favour, it’s hard to ignore that he’s looked better in a tougher situation. On top of that he’s even a few months younger.

I wasn’t inherently against trading Gunnarsson. I think that he’s a solid #4, but the Leafs have an abundance of those players and the #2 role he was playing was one which had him a bit in over his head. I figured the best thing for them to do with him would be to include him in a quantity for quality trade to acquire an asset in a position of need, subtracting a roster defenceman or adding that mythical #2. This just gives them another #4, who might not be as good.

To make matters worse, he wasn’t the only piece. A fourth round pick isn’t huge value, but there’s definitely merit to grabbing more prospects as you can. You never know who develops into what, and that’s especially important on, you know, draft day. That concerns me a fair bit.

Worst of all, I don’t understand why the Leafs are retaining salary. I wrote when Gunnarsson was signed that I felt his deal was fair value and we’ve been given no reason to believe otherwise since. Retaining $200,000 “adjusts” their theoretical salaries so that Polak is actually a $35,000 premium over Gunnarsson, something that I don’t believe matches with the talent. If his contract came off the books quicker, that would be awesome, but they both expire after 2015/16.

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You could say that the one benefit to this is that it allows the Leafs to move Dion Phaneuf back to the left side, but this means Polak plays on the first pair, which is not a world that anybody logical would pursue living in.

Besides, it’s not like the Leafs have a great track record in terms of trading Swedish roster players to the Blues.

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  • CMpuck

    Based on your work presented, at best you can say there is not enough data to make a strong conclusion if polak is better/worse then gunnar. And based on your personal bias you think the leafs got the worse player.

    Then Simmons would argue the the opposite based on his expert personal bias.

  • CMpuck

    My thoughts exactly! The only reason I can think of for the Leafs giving up more rather than a one-for-one trade is that they think Polak’s size is worth it. He’s got 40 pounds on Gunnarsson, despite being 2 inches shorter.

    I miss Burke 🙁

  • STAN

    My thoughts, take it however.

    Gunnar was not a good d-man. He was brutal offensively, and for a defensive guy he got beat constantly, people were always trying to stretch the small good things he did (shot blocking, stick checking).

    Polak does both of those, he also hits, and is very good on the PK. The fact that he shoots right makes him a perfect stay at home partner for either Reilly or Gardiner. I’m sure that Gunnar will become amazing and have a career year now that he’s traded (as ex leafs do) but this is a solid move. This may seems hard to understand but not every move that’s made can be a blockbuster or an absolute win. You need to give things up to make change

    And if no move was made, you’d probably whine about that as well.

    • TGT23

      I’m sorry; but no.

      You cannot convince me that trading one top 4 d-man who is well regarded in league circles for a slower top 4 d-man while also losing a pick and gaining near nothing in cap, is a good move.

      Considering how often people ride Dion and Gleason for being slow footed, I don’t want to hear that another immobile d-man is a good thing.

      All this is, is a Nonis-Carlyle move that adds “intangibles” but does not nearly address the issue at hand. Might actually make it worse.

      • STAN

        Like I said, you’re not going to outright win every move. It’s a solid move because it was necessary.

        And if you really consider Gunnar a well regarded d-man, you’re on glue friend.

  • Benjamin

    Not that Polak is an improvement whatsoeverr, I can only mourn the loss of a -4.0% Corsi Rel defenseman on one of the worst possession teams in the league so much.

  • TGT23

    The leafs need something that will work right now. The facts that you have shown are great, but we do need a change in the defence core since (as is) they do not last. After watching innumerable videos and reading innumerable articles this seems like the best move for the leafs. Despite losing a fourth rounder (with our luck it will be another tuuka rask). We need a revamp in the defence core, while fine tuning other aspects of the game.

    The leafs need to create some great paired defence-men. A fine mixed of speedy and phyiscal will assist them well. How I look at this is that the leafs either have slow footed players (where they tend to stand back and do not enter to far past the neutral zone), or players like gunnerson who think they are forwards (in a majority of cases). We need a fine mix of the 2. This is a great trade to create some depth in our defence core. Just leaves us wondering… how well will they do down the stretch.. because we know that is what killed us.