Despite Critics, Dallas Stars Re-signing of Roman Polak Holds Merit

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 16: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins fight with Esa Lindell #23 of the Dallas Stars as Torey Krug #47 of the Boston Bruins fights with Roman Polak #45 of the Dallas Stars in the third period at American Airlines Center on November 16, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 16: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins fight with Esa Lindell #23 of the Dallas Stars as Torey Krug #47 of the Boston Bruins fights with Roman Polak #45 of the Dallas Stars in the third period at American Airlines Center on November 16, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

On the morning of June 6th, it was announced that Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars have re-signed Defenseman Roman Polak to a 1 year, $1.75M contract – despite his critics, there’s reason for optimism.

After opening the summer with an Esa-sized bang, the Dallas Stars are bringing back another presence along the blueline in Roman Polak for the 2019-2020 season.

Previously signed to be an insurance-policy defensemen, injuries to Marc Methot and Stephen Johns led to an increased role with Dallas in his first year sporting victory green. Polak scored one goal, tallied 8 assists, and notched a +6 rating while mostly playing alongside rookie phenom Miro Heiskanen in a Top 4 role with the club.

With millions of possible names seemingly available to a GM over the course of an NHL offseason, Jim Nill is giving money to one of his own:

"Roman personifies what it means to be a professional and his mentorship to our younger players proved to be invaluable to our organization. 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. – Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill"

Despite the glowing review, there doesn’t seem to be too much optimism circulating through Big D. A simple look at the Dallas Stars Twitter page reveals a lot of skepticism and disapproval among fans – and it’s not too hard to understand why.

Aside from his lackluster point totals, Roman Polak scores low on many advanced statistical methods. When measuring the defenseman’s Corsi (defined as quantifying the shot attempt totals for and against the team while said player is skating) – you get an abysmal CF 38.5% for the 2019-2020 season, followed by a -13.8% relative Corsi. These metrics indicate that while Roman Polak was on the ice, the Dallas Stars controlled the puck only 38.5% of the time and were forechecking at a 13.8% better clip with him on the bench – an eye sore upon first glance.

Not only does Corsi take shots on goal into account, but it also accounts for blocked and missed ones, too – proving a decent indicator of puck possession. Knowing that Roman Polak finished second on the Stars in shot blocks with 152, however (and only behind Esa Lindell’s 161), it’s reasonable to conclude that his Corsi percentages may be negatively skewed more than most given his primary responsibility of clogging up shooting lanes. To better access his value, we would need a different metric.

That’s where Fenwick comes in. A statistic nearly identical to Corsi – the one exception being that it  excludes blocked shots – Fenwick provides you a better way to evaluate stay-at-home defensemen such as #45. Polak grades marginally better in these categories, posting a 39.8% FF and a relative score of -12.1%. While he did theoretically improve, this would still lead most to believe the Dallas Stars are playing a better game when Roman sits.

So, what’s my point? Why would you write an article celebrating Roman Polak when you just statistically exposed him?  It’s clear that he is not worth anything and Jim Nill should’ve found someone else to serve as our depth defensemen.”

If that’s you – you’re dead wrong.  And to the first question, wipe off the angry sweat streaming down your cheeks; I know I just equipped some of you with more Anti-Roman “proof”. Trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.

I mention these analytics because too many “experts” and fans use the metrics above to cast doubt on players such as Polak. These can make any player not found to be driving offensive play immediately labeled a disappointment. In Roman’s case, we are looking at a physical, defensive-defensemen who was strategically used to frustrate opposing forechecks and grind them down. We need better tools to evaluate him justifiably.

Good thing I found the ones that matter.

My first piece of evidence lies upon examination of his ice-time. Roman Polak started his shift in the defensive zone 75.2% of the time – good for 2nd most among NHL defensemen who participated in at least 5 NHL games this season. That’s A LOT of ice time to spend with Ben Bishop, folks. How realistic is it for a player strategically deployed in his own zone to post consistently positive offensive metrics? The Dallas Stars instead used Roman Polak as their designated strong man, and he relished in that role. Punishing his opposition to 191 hits this year – 2nd most on the team – he was a vengeful skater who jumped at the opportunity to use his physicality to spark momentum.

Another statistic I find fascinating is the concept of Defensive Point Shares, or DPS. Basically, this tool operates under the basis of marginal goals for and against being linked to team points. The result will show a player’s expected contribution to their team in terms of these points, essentially displaying how many wins said player gave his organization through their defensive play. Upon examining the data, you will find that Roman Polak finished second on the Dallas Stars in DPS with 4.6 – this means that over the 82-game regular season, Roman Polak’s defense is directly related to 2+wins on the season. Only John Klingberg (4.9) and Esa Lindell (6.7 – who also happened to lead the NHL in DPS) finished better in this metric.

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One point that I want to get across is that I understand some of the hate. I totally get that in a perfect world, Roman Polak is not your 4th d-man. Finding someone else to pair with Miro Heiskanen should be a top priority for Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars this offseason.

But given the circumstances, Polak was more than solid.

"“He’s been instrumental to the penalty kill, he’s been instrumental to the dressing room. We’ve talked about the positive impact he’s had on the ice and off the ice. He’s someone we couldn’t imagine playing without.” – Dallas Stars Head Coach Jim Montgomery"

Having a veteran defensemen who can help further along a young blueline is never a bad idea, especially when you consider Polak will likely be reserved to a depth role come 2020. Knowing said veteran already holds valuable influence within the locker room is even better.

The Dallas Stars employed Roman Polak to be their defensive-minded defensemen last year, and he responded with a solid season in which he was assigned much more than initially anticipated. He found his spot playing conservatively alongside Miro Heiskanen, and worked in tandem to lockdown some of the league’s toughest assignments.

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Assuming Dallas correctly assigns him to their 3rd line, this re-signing is a huge win for the Dallas Stars.

  • Published on 06/07/2019 at 11:28 AM
  • Last updated at 06/07/2019 at 11:28 AM