Anton Stralman has been a key piece on the New York Rangers' blue line for the last three seasons, and after a strong playoff, general manager Glen Sather should do everything in his power to retain him.
It was reported by Larry Brooks of the New York Post that Stralman could be offered a contract worth $4 million a year, but that might not be enough to keep the Swedish defender who could hit the jackpot on July 1.
Stralman’s journey has been an interesting one, and it goes back to the start of the 2011-12 season when the Blueshirts signed him to a one-year deal after he was kicked out of the New Jersey Devils’ training camp.
Since that point he has evolved from being an offensive defender into a reliable, consistent second-pairing rearguard. The Blueshirts now have a bit more flexibility after the termination of Brad Richards’ contract, and although it could be difficult, re-signing Stralman has to be a priority because of what he means to the team.
Stralman can be described as a defender who is calm under pressure, a smooth decision-maker and a smart thinker. He isn’t the greatest of skaters, but he uses his vision to move the puck up the ice, and he has really become a key fixture on a team that lives and dies while playing a transition game. He also has played with an edge, and he will throw a hip check every now and then.
He has been slotted in as the team’s No. 4 defender for the past few years, and that is a very important role for the Rangers. He has played with Marc Staal, and it is no coincidence that the Rangers’ alternate captain had one of his best seasons since returning with injury.
Staal was a bit shaky after returning from an eye injury, and his vision was reduced at times. This caused second-guessing because Staal was in a position where he felt like he had to do it all himself. It was a tough spot for the Blueshirts’ former No. 1 defender, and pairing him with Stralman helped turn around Staal’s game.
Stralman was so solid in his own zone, Staal didn’t need to worry about trying to cover up another defender’s mistakes, so he was free to play his own game with confidence. The level of trust developed between the two defenders resulted in solid play, and at times they outperformed the top pairing that Ryan McDonagh was a part of.
The Rangers did better at 5v5 with Stralman on the ice than they did with any other defenceman. And their best pairing was Stralman-McDonagh, not McDonagh-Girardi. Staal did worse with Girardi than he did with Stralman, which leads to a reasonable inference that Stralman is pretty valuable: he seems to have a big impact on his team’s Corsi% when he’s on the ice.
Simply put, the Rangers were a better team with Stralman on the ice, and he has really flourished under head coach Alain Vigneault. Stralman had to reinvent himself under former bench boss John Tortorella, and the 2013-14 campaign was another year of growth that has people talking about him.
Some may say that Stralman is due for a huge payday because his numbers have been inflated by playing with other good defenders, but that isn’t the case, according to Jonathan Willis of Bleacher Report and the Edmonton Journal:
Stralman’s results in New York have been truly impressive. … It has been suggested to me that Stralman is excelling due to playing with high-quality partners – notably Marc Staal. Does that theory hold up? Stralman’s numbers hold up well when separated from any of the players on this list; even his numbers sans McDonagh are pretty strong (though naturally they’re better together). He’s performed well with decent players against decent competition, and he’s performed well with more marginal players in a lower role. Nothing here suggests he isn’t ready for more responsibility.
That is exactly what fans want to hear, because keeping Stralman would mean keeping him in a role where he has performed admirably. If Stralman walks, the Rangers will have a huge hole to fill. McDonagh and Staal are solid defenders, and Dan Girardi will look to rebound off a troubling playoffs. Kevin Klein really didn’t help the Rangers in the playoffs, and John Moore is still growing.
Losing Stralman would adversely impact the Blueshirts’ second pairing, and Staal’s game could take a hit as well. The Rangers are offering $4 million, but they should go as high as $5 million if they have to.
After locking up Stralman, they could look to flip Klein before the draft because he is a top-six defender who has a reasonable $2.9 million contract for the next five seasons. This would open up a spot for a youngster like Dylan McIlrath or Conor Allen, and that would help the Rangers avoid breaking the bank.
No matter how you look at it, Stralman has been a key contributor for the Rangers. It makes more sense to retain a known commodity than try to pay to replace him via free agency or via trade. It may seem like a tough pill to swallow if he wants more than $4 million, but in the long run it will make sense because Stralman has shown he can be consistent and sustain his success.
The draft is now days away, and his future with the Rangers will be known shortly, because you can guarantee that Sather won’t lose a top asset for nothing.