The San Jose Sharks will have reinforcements for their visit with the St. Louis Blues Monday, Feb. 22. They started the day announcing a trade of troubled forward Raffi Torres plus second-round picks in the 2017 and 2018 NHL entry drafts to the Toronto Maple Leafs for blue-liner Roman Polak and forward Nick Spaling.
San Jose general manager Doug Wilson likely could not afford to trade away the second-round pick this summer because he already gave up the first for Martin Jones. Doing that already put the entire front office on the line, and the need to reach the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs to keep their jobs certainly played a part in this move.
A playoff team’s second-round picks are not all that likely to result in stars. First-round picks for non-postseason teams often do.
Wilson knows that the Sharks making the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs makes both tolerable moves, but missing it makes both trades atrocious. There is reason to be optimistic that the trade for Jones is at least worthwhile, free agents Paul Martin and Joel Ward provided support at the top of the blue-line and forward depth charts and now another player is added to the bottom of both skating units.
The combination of moves should ensure at least third place in the Pacific Division at the end of the 2015-16 NHL season, good enough to reach the postseason for the 11th time in the last 12 Stanley Cup playoffs. San Jose is currently four games up on the Arizona Coyotes, who have just 24 games left to catch a team with superior experience, talent and urgency.
CSN Bay Area Insider Kevin Kurz had Polak on his radar for good reason. Known as a stay-at-home defender, the Czech defenseman did have a goal and 12 assists over 56 games so far this 2015-16 NHL season while on a bad team.
Polak can solidify the third pair right away in Brenden Dillon’s absence, though that may still end before this road trip does Wednesday night. The two of them would compliment each other if paired together, forming a very good defensive pair that features a right- and left-handed shot.
Spaling provides the Sharks a capable checking-line forward in the absence of Tommy Wingels, probably being inserted at left wing or center on the fourth line. He and Polak are both free agents at the end of the 2015-16 NHL season, but both could probably either be signed for a reasonable price or another free agent could be brought in affordably to fill their expected roles.
It does not hurt that Polak knows the next opponent as well as anyone, having played in St. Louis until last season. Adding him and Spaling could even propel San Jose to erase the two-game deficit with the hated Los Angeles Kings—currently without two of their top forwards—for the 2015-16 NHL season Pacific Division crown and a significantly easier road through the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Finally, dumping Torres almost seems a bonus in the deal. His return would have created a tremendous distraction on the heels of the heaviest discipline in NHL history for repeatedly showing no regard for the safety of other players in reckless, dangerous hits.
Moreover, his knee has never recovered from a 2013 preseason injury in his first full season in San Jose. Complications have led to additional procedures and Torres has only played 12 games of his three-year, $6 million deal signed that summer.