Is Anton Stralman Worth $9 Million Extension for New York Rangers?

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistMarch 16, 2014

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 7:  Anton Stralman #6 of the New York Rangers moves the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 7, 2014 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

On any list of the NHL’s best defencemen, it would take quite a while to reach the name of New York Rangers rearguard Anton Stralman. That’s why a report last week from Larry Brooks of the New York Post stating that Stralman had rejected a three-year contract extension with the club at a significant price point came as a real surprise.

Via Brooks:

The Post has learned Anton Stralman rejected the Rangers’ offer prior to the Olympics for an extension believed in the three-year, $9 million range, which is somewhat shocking. The Blueshirts, who have righty Kevin Klein on the third pair at $2.9 million, will take another go at it after the season.

There is some question as to whether the interaction reported above actually happened. Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News writes that Stralman’s agent, Marc Levine, called the report “false” when reached for comment but “did not elaborate” on that statement.

Regardless of the specifics of what happened, the conflicting reports raise some interesting questions. Would Stralman have been wise to turn down the offer as laid out in the Post? What will the pending free agent be worth on the open market this summer?

It’s difficult to establish the market value of any player, but defencemen in particular are problematic because traditional statistics miss out on a large portion of their value to their respective teams. One way to establish a list of salary comparables is to look at ice time, which shows how each player is valued relative to his teammates.

Looking at last summer’s class of free-agent defencemen, we find four players who are rough ice-time fits for Stralman. Our criteria here were relatively lose: Any defenceman who had averaged within two minutes per game of Stralman in his free-agent year and within two minutes of Stralman’s three-year average over the three seasons preceding free agency was included. Here’s the list:

Contract comparables for Anton Stralman
PlayerAge1 Yr. TOI3 Yr. TOICap Hit (MM)Years
Anton Stralman2719.418.2------
Andrew Ference3319.518.83.254
Robyn Regehr3219.419.83.002
Michal Rozsival3418.119.12.202
Scott Hannan3419.319.81.001,

The big item here is age. Stralman is 27; the other players on this list were all in their early to mid-30s when they signed. Additionally, Stralman’s ice time has increased over the last few seasons, while with the exception of Ference, our aging defencemen have seen their salaries fall.

Given Stralman’s age and progression, it’s reasonable to expect that he’d be toward the higher end of the salary list we’ve just examined. That puts him somewhere in the range of Ference ($3.25 million cap hit, four-season deal) or Regehr ($3.00 million cap hit, two-season deal)., the source for the salary information above, provides another powerful reason to think that Stralman should be confident of landing a hefty offer as a summer free agent. The salary website maintains a list of pending unrestricted free agents, and it isn’t an encouraging list for teams looking for defensive help. The number of players within a five-year age gap of Stralman and averaging as many or more minutes per game is illuminating:

Significant pending UFA defencemen age 32-and-under
Andrew MacDonald276625-1925.14
Ron Hainsey326614-821.27
Tom Gilbert316727-121.24
Matt Niskanen2765383220.93
Kyle Quincey286610-520.57
Andre Benoit306523-120.23
Chris Butler276711-2119.85
Anton Stralman27678-119.42

MacDonald might be seen as the best of the lot here, but he has terrible (really, really terrible) advanced statistics. After considering the numbers, one writer for the SB Nation website Jewels from the Crown concluded that “the best possible outcome is that he doesnt completely ruin the roster.”

Hainsey and Gilbert both struggled to get contracts this past summer; Gilbert himself was a compliance buyout not all that long ago. Benoit played 34 games in the AHL last season, and more than half his career major league games have come with the Colorado Avalanche this year.

Leaving $9.0 million on the table, if it actually happened, would be a risk by Stralman’s camp. But looking at what happened last year and who is competing for blue-line money this year, and recognizing that the salary cap is likely to rise in the offseason, it’s easy to imagine Stralman getting that much or more on the open market.