Toronto Maple Leafs: Revisiting The Carl Gunnarsson Trade

On June 28th, 2014, the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Roman Polak from the St. Louis Blues in, perhaps, the worst managerial move in Brendan Shanahan’s tenure.

The Toronto Maple Leafs kept the grit theory alive and well in Leafs Nation by trading a better defender and a fourth round pick for Polak. This was a little over two months into Brendan Shanahan’s new gig as President of the Hockey World.

Prior to the deal – over a span of four years – Carl Gunnarsson was a superior defender to Roman Polak. Neither generated much offense, but Gunnarsson still had the edge. On the defensive side of things, Gunnarsson also had the edge. These are facts you can look up on any site.

What did Roman Polak have?

“I reached out to a couple of teams after the deal was done — not before — and asked what they liked and they said his speed,” said Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. (National Post)

Now, are we talking speed like when someone calls a shifty thief Fast Eddy? Or are we talking speed like when people say Dylan Larkin is fast?

Things were never looking up for Toronto since day one of that trade.

Interestingly enough, the Leafs hired analytics guru Kyle Dubas a month after the Polak trade. Buyer’s remorse? I’d like to hope, because it feeds my perception – much like when a good defender is portrayed in the media as a bad defender and people believe it.

Dave Nonis is the official fall guy for this trade, but we all know that when Shanahan took over everything went through him. He was even quoted (above) as asking around about the gritty, lesser defender he was about to acquire.

The Gunnarsson deal filled a void on the right side, but created one on the left. That left spot went to Matt Hunwick, the statistical darling from the New York Rangers. We’ve seen Hunwick’s struggles since leaving New York and getting an increased workload, so his failures can also be traced back to the Gunnarsson deal.

I was on board with the Hunwick signing at the time. It seemed low risk, high reward, based on his body of work in New York. It was low risk, but there was never any high reward. He never came around to finding his game with a higher role.

Now, I’m not saying the Leafs shouldn’t have traded Gunnarsson. What I’m saying is that the deal they did make was a stupid one, plain and simple, and set in motion another bad move (Hunwick) that otherwise probably wouldn’t have happened.

On the flip side of the deal is that no matter how bad Roman Polak was for the Leafs, his gritty attributes grabbed the attention of the Western Conference. Not shocking considering that everyone believes the West is tougher than the East.

That con-job – the trade with the San Jose Sharks – netted the Toronto Maple Leafs a king’s ransom relative to what Toronto gave away. Polak and Spaling each netted a 2nd round pick in the deal and they took Torres back on paper.

This is where the Gunnarsson trade finally worked out. He was essentially dealt for two second round picks, or one if you want to believe Nick Spaling, currently playing in Switzerland, was anything more than a book-balancing addition. That’s a deal I think anyone could get behind. With the Polak trade, faith was completely restored and the original deal was forgotten about.

In the end, the trade had little to no negative impact on the organization because of the return Polak netted. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a bad deal to start with. The good news is, though, that the Toronto Maple Leafs aren’t in the business of making bad deals because of ‘grit’ anymore. Skill wins, every single time.