All-around defenseman Anton Stralman flew under the radar for the majority of his time in New York. The Rangers were very fortunate to get outstanding contributions from Stralman on the cheap for three seasons.
Now, they’re looking like a broken team without him. Over this past weekend, the Rangers lacked any measure of defensive structure in back-to-back losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs and cellar-dwelling Edmonton Oilers.
After agreeing a five-year, $22 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Stralman has provided rock-solid stability and offensive punch for the Bolts. Through 15 games with the Lightning, Stralman has scored two goals and recorded eight assists for 10 points. His plus-14 only trails league leader Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators.
Although the 6-6-2 Rangers have been hit by a rash of injuries, the loss of Stralman is looming large as a key reason for the Blueshirts’ funk.
Last season, Stralman partnered Marc Staal on the Rangers’ second defensive pairing. Staal does not look anywhere near the same player this season. He and Dan Girardi have been thrust into logging huge minutes per game while captain Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle have been injured. Girardi and Staal are each struggling to cope with an increased workload.
The Rangers had opportunities to retain Stralman. They should have met his asking price. Now, they’re paying the price for allowing Stralman to slip through their fingers.
Stralman’s standout performances during the Rangers’ run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final escalated his asking price. The 28-year-old Swede became one of the most highly-coveted free agents this past summer. That being said, his contractual demands were not outrageous.
For the Rangers to have retained Stralman, they might have needed to pay more than the $4.4 million annual average value contract he’s currently earning from Tampa – considering the lack of state income tax in Florida.
During the offseason, Stralman expressed his frustrations to Hockey Sverige.se. The following is a rough translation:
“New York came up with an offer and we came up with a counter offer and after that we were prepared to negotiate, but there was nothing,” Stralman told the Swedish outlet. “They do not even come back to me. I’m extremely disappointed with what happened. Once the Rangers (targeted) Dan Boyle and then I understood what they were doing. Of course you then get very frustrated and angry. I think you could have the respect to tell me earlier that you wanted to go a different route.”
The Rangers opted to sign veteran defenseman Dan Boyle for a similar AAV at $4.5 million per season. Boyle had been a long-term target for the Rangers. This column isn’t about comparing Boyle to Stralman.
Long before the free agency process started, the Rangers prioritized re-signing Girardi over Stralman during the spring. Negotiations dried up after Stralman reportedly rejected a three-year, $9 million offer from the Rangers prior to the Sochi Olympics.
The Rangers made the decision to tie down Girardi to a six-year, $33 million extension days before the 2014 trade deadline. While Girardi has been a minute-eating warrior, his game appears to be declining fast. He is also two years older than Stralman and does not offer the puck-carrying prowess or the power play production that the Swede offers.
It appears that Stralman will turn out to be the wiser long-term investment.