[Editor's Note: Mike Murphy is a regular contributor at SB Nation's New York Rangers blog, Blueshirt Banter. While I requested a quote or two about Anton Stralman, he gave us this full article instead. Thanks, Digger!. -- JF]
If I had to sum up Anton Stralman and his style of play in a single word, I would use the word "smart". Stralman, as many of you already know, is a fancy stats and possession numbers darling. He excels playing against tough competition and dominates against poor competition. It's hard to believe that before signing with the Rangers as a free agent in November of 2011 Stralman didn't receive a contract from the Devils after participating in their training camp that season. Think about that for a second. He went from not being good enough for the Devils in 2011, a team that lost to the Kings in the Stanley Cup Final, to playing big minutes on the second defensive pair of the Rangers in 2014, a team that lost to the Kings in the Stanley Cup Final. That's a curious career path for a guy that has just landed on a Tampa team that is headed in the right direction.
In the three seasons that Stralman has been a Ranger, he has gone from a "solid pick mid-season pick up" to a guy who absolutely solidified the Rangers blue line. You won't find Stralman's real value on your standard stat sheet. He doesn't pick up many points despite making good decisions with the puck. His real value is revealed after a close inspection of his fancy stats, coming to realize how infrequent his mistakes are, and when you consider the fact that he's a right-handed defenseman that has been undervalued and underused throughout his career. Perhaps Stralman benefited from the Rangers system and from playing alongside some noteworthy d-men. Or, perhaps, Stralman was one of the guys that made the Rangers' defense what it has been the past few seasons and made his defensive partners look better than they actually were (psst, it's the latter).
Stralman is everything you could want in a defenseman; he's a smooth skater, he has had no serious injury issues, he's competent with the puck, he can take the body, he can get the puck to the net when given the opportunity (although he really shouldn't be considered a power play guy), and he's still just 27 years old. You guys signed Stralman to play his prime years in Tampa after he just picked up boatloads of playoff experience and you got him for the same price as the soon to be 38 year-old player the Rangers signed to replace him (although the Rangers did sign Dan Boyle to a shorter term). I think it is pretty safe to say you made Glen Sather look very silly. Well, you had some help with your peculiar little "thing" about income tax... but we'll try not to hold that against you. There's a chance that the Anton Stralman signing could be the best signing of this offseason, especially when you look at the kind of money that guys like Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, and Deryk Engelland got. Only time will tell right now, but in regards to defensemen, the two best signings on July 1st, in my opinion, were the Stralman and Christian Ehrhoff signings.
Soon enough you'll come to appreciate Stralman in the way that Rangers have come to appreciate him. Not for the things that he does amazingly well, but for the very few things he does poorly. Perhaps the pressure will be on the Swedish blueliner now that he finally has that big contract to play up to, but I doubt Stralman will crack under pressure. Stralman is calm, smart, and solid. And we're going to miss him in New York. Big time.
Right off the bat you shouldn't expect Brian Boyle to score 20 goals again (it was the flukiest fluke season ever), and don't expect him to win fights just because he's the size of a small redwood. What you should expect out of Brian Boyle is a superb role player in your bottom six that won't take any shifts off and will give his team a chance to win every night by eating up defensive zone faceoffs and killing penalties with aplomb. A quick glance at his zone start stats will tell you that Boyle is a guy to use when you need the puck out of your zone or a faceoff to be won. Boyle is an above average faceoff man. Last season he was second only to faceoff wizard Dominic Moore on the Rangers in regards to faceoff winning percentage.
Although he won't win many of the fights he is in (which is not a big deal because fights don't win hockey games), Boyle is a very physical player. He's going to take the body. A lot. You should get used to it. Early in his career and in his first season with the Rangers his skating was a big issue that severely limited his role and use with the team. Boyle, in the blue-collar spirit that he seems to embody, worked on that deficit in his game and has become the Boyle you guys knew as a New York Ranger; a big guy that moves well for his size and hits everything and anything in his path. Boyle will block shots, defend his teammates, chip in about 8-10 goals, forecheck like frisky cat, and will give his team a chance to win every night.
There was some talk about him really wanting a top-nine role with whatever team he signed with so it should be interesting to see how Tampa Bay uses Boyle, but he will (and should) never be a guy you look to for offense. He's a defensive specialist who isn't blessed with very good hands. But you shouldn't let his lack of puck luck and goal scoring take away from his real value. Boyle is an exceptionally good role player that will add real depth to the Tampa Bay Lightning.