Becoming a part of Tampa Bay
Anton Stralman was a coveted free agent in the summer of 2014. He had just completed a three year contract with the New York Rangers and chose to test the waters of free agency to see what his value was. By traditional measures Stralman was not seen as a highly offensive defensemen; he was seen as a reliable second pairing player who could shut down opposing offenses. This is accurate—to an extent.
During his stint in New York, Stralman was often referred to as an “advanced statistics darling,” a player who positively affected possession for his team, but didn’t put up the points one would assume. This could’ve been attributed to his ice time (Stralman averaged 18 minutes in his three seasons with the Rangers) or the system New York ran. Nonetheless, whenever Stralman was on the ice for his team he consistently pushed possession towards the opposing zone, and more times than not his team scored when he did this. It should be noted that Stralman’s ice time rose every year while he was in New York, signifying the trust he gained from the coaching staff.
Many in the NHL thought Stralman would get at least a 5 year deal with an annual average salary of 5 million or more. Due to the cap constraints that the Rangers were under during the 2014 off-season they were unable to provide an offer suitable to Stralman’s pedigree. Next up in line? Steve Yzerman.
Knowing the Lightning needed to bolster their defense with an impact player, Yzerman went after Stralman. He was the best defensive free agent on the market and the Lightning had the cap space to work something out with the Swedish defender.
In the end, Yzerman managed to sign Anton Stralman to a five year $22.5 million dollar contract (annual average value of 4.5), which was (and still is) a steal for what Stralman provides on the ice.
Tampa Bay was not an impressive team on defense prior to Stralman coming on board. Outside of Victor Hedman there wasn’t another defensemen on the roster that made teams think twice when playing the Lightning. Eric Brewer wasn’t the player he used to be, Matt Carle was already showing signs of regression at the end of the 2013-2014 season, Slater Koekkoek was dealing with injuries and hadn’t begun his yearly yo-yoing between Tampa and Syracuse, and Jason Garrison was still in Vancouver.
Additionally, Andrej Sustr had just become a regular in the lineup as had Radko Gudas, but neither of these players were projected to be top defenders in the NHL. The graphs below shows the volume of shots the Lightning allowed during the 2013-2014 season (without Stralman) and the 2014-2015 season (with Stralman).
By adding Stralman (and to a lesser extent Jason Garrison who at the time was still an effective defensemen), Yzerman brought a level of balance to the defensive corps that the Lightning hadn’t seen in years. The graphs show a stark difference in the volume of shots Tampa Bay allowed; less shot volume means less chances for the opposing team to fill our net with frozen vulcanized rubber.
Before his arrival in Tampa Bay, however, Anton Stralman was never given top pairing minutes, which in retrospect is surprising, but as noted in a previous post Stralman had a bumpy road to becoming an NHL regular. Jon Cooper saw to it that Stralman would pair up with fellow Swede Victor Hedman, and the rest is history.
Stralman’s previous career high in points was with the Columbus Blue Jackets during the 2009-2010 season where he put up 34 points (6 goals, 28 assists) in 73 games. His career numbers before Tampa were 112 points in 394 games (0.28 PPG). His numbers in Tampa? 95 points in 228 games (0.41 PPG). The reason was two-fold. First, Stralman was given top pairing minutes in addition to power-play time, and thrived while being utilized in this manner. Second, he was given a partner who was even more explosive than he was—Victor Hedman.
The following graph shows a three-year summary of Stralman’s impact for Tampa Bay, and it’s one that should make every Lightning fan happy.
It’s clear that when Stralman is on the ice he is affecting play in a positive manner and once he is off the ice the team’s effectiveness drops. Though it should be noted that outside of the rough defensive performance of this past season, Tampa Bay has been a top ten team in limiting shots and scoring chances. As the graph shows, Tampa Bay is a slightly above average team in both of these areas when Stralman is not on the ice.
It’s no coincidence that Tampa Bay began to rise from playoff hopeful to Stanley Cup contender right around the time Stralman was brought on board. Now, obviously he is not the sole reason the Lightning became prominent again. His arrival coincided with the rise of the triplets, Ben Bishop solidifying his position as a Vezina caliber goaltender, and Victor Hedman finally maturing into the Norris candidate he was projected to be, but Stralman’s impact cannot be understated.
Stralman’s arrival allowed Cooper to balance the defensive depth and deploy his players in a manner that would be the most effective. Without that defensive depth (that the team is now trying to reestablish outside of Hedman and Stralman) the Lightning probably don’t make the 2015 Stanley Cup Final or the 2016 Eastern Conference Final.
Is Stralman regressing? It is inevitable once defensemen hit 30, but Stralman still had a solid season comparatively. It wasn’t like his previous two seasons, but Stralman is still more than capable of anchoring the second pairing while mentoring a younger defender.
Anton Stralman’s impact on the Tampa Bay Lightning cannot be ignored. He is one of the better defenders in the NHL today and one we are lucky to have. It’ll be curious to see if the signs of regression seen this past season expand into next season, but Stralman still has tread left on him.
Will Steve Yzerman re-sign him once his contract is up? Possibly. He’ll be pushing 33 and anything longer than two years would be very risky, but this is the NHL and weird things happen. Maybe Stralman figures out where the fountain of youth is and hordes its magical properties for himself so he can continue playing at a high level. Maybe Stralman will secretly concoct a Felix Felicis potion to help boost his luck of bucking the trend on defensemen over 30 [Nerd. - Acha]. Or maybe Stralman just continues to be a damn good defenseman on a damn good hockey team ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.