This is the next in a series of stories ranking the 24 most important players on the 2011-12 St. Louis Blues.
No. 14 Roman Polak
Roman Polak is strong like bull. A Czech Republic bull. Named after an Italian city. Not really near Poland. Who likes to fart in his teammates' helmets if his Twitter feed is authentic. We'll get to that.
The sturdy defenseman has some myth and lore surrounding him. I think his odd name inspires some of that. Blues broadcasters have said during games that they think he can skate faster backwards than almost anyone on the team can skate forwards. That leads to the question: is he that fast or is everyone else on the team that slow?
His strength has never been questioned. For the third year in a row he won the strength and conditioning test at the beginning of training camp. On the bench press he lifted 300 pounds. They would not let him lift more.
In the offseason the Blues signed Polak to a five-year contract worth $13.75 million. That's some pretty good cheddar for a mostly defensive defenseman. But his average salary of $2.75 million a year signals a few things. First, the Blues didn't overpay a guy on their team for being good defensively. The names Eric Brewer and Barret Jackman come to mind. They both signed contracts with John Davidson as president of the team for more than $4 million a year not that long ago. Hell, they gave that much annually to Jay McKee. So either they think he's a little further down the ladder amongst the team's defensemen, or Polak isn't very good at math.
Polak scored three goals and had nine assists in 55 games last year. That's probably more than many players would get after severing a tendon in their wrist. That sounds painful. So Polak is not a whiz with the puck. He only took 54 shots, so right at one per game. But he was credited with exactly two hits for every game played with 110.
When he was signed this summer, general manager Doug Armstrong (I refuse to call him Army even though reporters on conference calls will even use his nickname) said that Polak had showed his value to the team as a player and would be in the second defensive pairing. The numbers illustrate that. Last year he played an average of 19 minutes and 50 seconds per game, when his wrist wasn't ripped to shreds. That put him third among Blues defensemen in that statistic. His shorthanded time on ice was an average of just more than 2 minutes a game behind only Jackman. That means last season Polak played meaningful minutes right behind the best defensemen on the team overall and was right there as a defensive stopper on the penalty kill.
Being a physical guy and focusing on defense, it would be easy for him to spend significant time in the penalty box, but Polak doesn't. Must be the European in him. He was whistled for 33 penalty minutes last year and has averaged just 45 minutes a season his three years in the league. At age 25, he's still learning. But you can see his hockey sense on the ice. The exciting part is that it's still growing.
Roman Polak will probably never score 10 goals in a game. He'll be reliably defensively. His role will probably be underrated.But his Twitter feed which came back to life as the season has approached can be counted on for some laughs -- intentional or not. Rumor has it that he likes to fart in his teammates' helmets when they're not looking. Strong stuff.
Where do you rank a guy like that? How about middle of the pack?