ST. LOUIS – In the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs in St. Louis, Sharks defenseman Justin Braun got to experience first hand what it’s like to go up against Roman Polak, then with the Blues.
Late in Game 2 of an eventual five-game first round series win by St. Louis, things started to get a little chippy. Eventually, in a scrum in the corner late in regulation, Polak and Braun separated into a one-on-one tussle with Braun on the business end of several haymaker right hands from Polak.
While that type of scenario is less frequent than it was even four years ago, Polak’s toughness is undoubtedly a vital part of his game. At six-foot-one and 237 pounds, the Sharks will welcome his big body onto their blue line. Polak and forward Nick Spaling were acquired by San Jose on Monday from Toronto in exchange for second round picks in 2017 and 2018 and forward Raffi Torres, a throw-in for salary cap purposes.
“It’s a good pickup for us,” Braun said on Monday morning. “Two good players. A little more familiar with Polak, his style of game. He’s a hard guy to play against, strong, and it will be good to have him down the stretch here as we go forward.”
Polak, 29, was not deaf to the trade talk, as a pending unrestricted free agent on a team that won’t make the playoffs. He indicated on a conference call he’s eager to join the Sharks for the playoff push.
“I kind of knew it was going to happen,” Polak said. “I was waiting, it was just a matter of time when and where I’m going to end up. And, I think I ended up with a really good team, and a big chance to do big damage in the playoffs, so I’m excited.”
The way the Western Conference is setting up, the Sharks are likely to face either the Anaheim Ducks or Los Angeles Kings in the first round. As they well know, a playoff series against either team will be a physical affair.
Adding some size in Polak, who will likely be paired with fellow bruiser Brenden Dillon, was necessary.
Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said: “You want that extra size back there when you get a chance. Adding him to that group now, we’ve definitely got some size back there, some guys that can make plays, and I think it rounds out nicely.”
“They’ve got big strong guys, and we’ve got to match them every night,” Braun said of the Kings and Ducks. “This trade helps us do that.”
How the Sharks will use Spaling is unclear. He hasn’t contributed much offensively this season, with just one goal and six assists in 35 games. Still, the 27-year-old could a more experienced option than guys like Melker Karlsson or Matt Nieto, neither of whom has brought much on offense this season either, as well as help to kill penalties. It also means coach Pete DeBoer will get a chance to play a fourth line with more skilled and versatile players rather than Mike Brown.
Spaling is familiar with DeBoer, whom he played for in juniors in Kitchener, and he played with Sharks Joel Ward in Nashville and Paul Martin in Pittsburgh.
“It’s exciting to come to be able to come to a team like San Jose and join a really good team and make a playoff run here,” Spaling said. “It’s nice to get traded with a guy you know and I know a couple guys there, so I think I’m fortunate that way.”