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How might Polak's role change with Stars next season?

The defenseman is expected to be used in smaller doses, but his presence will still be a big part of the team's dynamic

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

In a perfect world, Roman Polak is a sixth or seventh defenseman who plays in 50 to 60 games and averages 15 minutes a game or so.

That was the thinking when the Stars signed Polak last summer as a free agent, and it's the same thinking Dallas was using Thursday when they inked the 33-year-old defenseman to a one-year deal worth $1.75 million.

The great thing about Polak is that if the world isn't perfect, he still can help his team adjust.

 

[ROMAN REIGNS: Stars sign veteran blueliner Polak to 1-year contract extension]

 

When the Stars lost Marc Methot and Stephen Johns to injury last season, it opened a huge hole in the defense. Polak stepped in and filled it, playing 77 games and averaging 19:10 per game.

"He's a gamer," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said during the season. "He's a hockey player and he's a gamer. He's someone that's involved in the game all of the time. He's just very effective for us, breaking pucks out, on the penalty kill, up the ice."

Video: Polak on Heiskanen, Stars' evolution during season

Polak is a defensive defenseman. At 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, he brings size and weight that his teammates didn't have. He was physical when he needed to be, and he also brought a grizzled veteran presence to both handle aggression and know when to stay calm.

He also brought that attitude to practice and the dressing room. He was lighthearted when he needed to be and intense when he needed to be. It was one of the reasons Stars general manager Jim Nill wanted him back for next season.

"Roman personifies what it means to be a professional and his mentorship to our younger players proved to be invaluable to our organization," Nill said. "His team-first attitude and physical style of play is endearing to both his teammates and the coaching staff, and we're thrilled to have him back."

That said, the organization knows that using Polak in a more limited role could make more sense.

Polak last season was second worst on the team in SAT (shot attempt differential at even strength) at minus-252. In the playoffs, he was worst in the NHL at minus-101. Second worst in the playoffs was teammate Ben Lovejoy at minus-69, so Polak was allowing a lot of shot attempts when he was on the ice.

Video: ANA@DAL: Polak flips backhander past Gibson

That said, he found a way to finish plus-6 during the regular season while scoring just one goal and adding eight assists. That means he either was giving up scoring chances that weren't that great or that his goaltenders were fantastic behind him.

"I think a lot of it is can he win footraces," Montgomery said. "Sometimes, we end up defending more because of his speed, but people don't want to play against him. So it's like every player, there are strengths and weaknesses and you try to accentuate the strengths."

Montgomery said that scaling back Polak's minutes is part of the plan. The Stars see Polak as a fifth or sixth defenseman, and would like to slot him properly.

"He shouldn't be playing No. 4 minutes, he shouldn't have to," Montgomery said. "But if we could slot him and have him and Jamie Oleksiak playing against (Patrick) Maroon in the (Blues) series, then I think we're in a much better place.

The signing of Polak gives the Stars five defensemen under contract in John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, Miro Heiskanen, Oleksiak and Polak, who is the only righty in that group. Johns also is a righty, but he missed all of last season with problems that developed after a concussion, and he still has not been cleared to play.

Video: SJS@DAL: Janmark beats Jones off Polak's no-look pass

Johns is skating on a regular basis, but he still is a major question mark for next season. The Stars have Joel Hanley, 27, Emil Djuse, 25, and Ben Gleason, 21, on two-way contracts for next season, and also have three UFAs who played last season on two-way contracts in Taylor Fedun, 31, Gavin Bayreuther, 25, and Dillon Heatherington, 24.

That group could provide plenty of depth, but is that depth better used in small doses and not as a regular NHL roster player?

Dallas also has sole rights to Lovejoy, 35, until July 1 and controls RFA Julius Honka, 23.

While there are still decisions to be made, signing Polak was an important part of creating the needed elements for next season.

"He's someone who helps you win," Montgomery said. "The life and energy he gives to our team is something analytically that you can't judge. I'm ecstatic to have him back."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

Read more: Roman Polak, Jim Nill, Jim Montgomery, Dallas Stars

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