2014 Report Card: The dominant play of Anton Stralman

Jim McIsaac

Anton Stralman was a major part of the Rangers Stanley Cup run this season, including, quietly, dominating offensively.

This guy. A few years ago, Anton Stralman could barely make an NHL roster. Now, he's a bona fide Corsi monster, and a top pairing defenseman.

Possession driver and offensive force

When enumerating Stralman's strength as a defenseman, it's his puck possession and play in his own end that get the most attention. The problem with that is people need to reconsider the way they think about offense, and how puck possession plays a role in general. Darryl Sutter articulated it perfectly earlier in the season, saying, "The game's changed. They think there's defending in today's game. Nah, it's how much you have the puck. Teams that play around in their own zone (say) they're defending but they're generally getting scored on or taking face-offs and they need a goalie to stand on his head if that's the way they play."

Tyler Dellow took this a step further when evaluating Stralman's play. While he only scored one goal and recorded 12 assists this season, Stralman was hardly an ineffective offensive player. As Dellow pointed out, the Rangers scored 55.8% of their 5v5 goals over the last three seasons, a number so high it really can't be chalked up to random number variance or too small of a sample size. The Rangers scored the majority of their even strength goals when Stralman was on the ice. That makes him an effective offensive player.

More on Stralman

His aforementioned play in his own end deserves some attention as well. It plays right into what Sutter said, and Sidney Crosby would say later in that same story: puck possession eliminates the necessity to defend. Puck-moving defensemen who can make quick, quality decisions are the way of the future of the NHL blue line. Stralman is very much in the mold of this burgeoning defensive style. Stralman was seventh among defenseman last season in Corsi rel at an even 6%. That number was four points higher than Norris winner Duncan Keith, and the other eight players who made up the one-to-nine voting for top defensemen. Heck, only Mark Giordana (10), Matt Niskanen (11), and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (12) appeared on the Norris voting ballot and had a higher Corsi rel than Stralman.

Possession isn't all there is to the life of a defenseman, but it is pretty darn important. Sure, Stralman played second-pairing minutes, and thus, second-pairing assignments, but Stralman's impact on his teammates was undeniable. His regular defensive partner, Marc Staal, dropped nearly eight points on his CF% when not on the ice with Stralman. To take that further, only Daniel Carcillo and Dan Girardi (who only played 5:46 with Stralman all season) had higher

CF% when not on the ice with Stramlan.

Signing with Tampa Bay

The Rangers tried to come to terms with Stralman on an extension. They tried around the time of the Olympic break, and couldn't agree on a deal. They tried again following the 2014 playoffs, when Stralman was a much hotter commodity, and a tantalizing free agent-to-be, and couldn't come to an agreement at the 25th hour. Having already given long-term, big money extensions to Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, and Marc Staal due for a new deal, the Rangers were between a rock and hard place when it came to Stralman. It's easy to see his deal with the Lightning (it carries the same AAV as Dan Boyle's new contract with the Rangers) but there's more at play. Boyle also took less money to come to New York, so it wasn't cut-and-dry he'd fetch what he did on the open market. Brady Skjei is probably a few years away from being NHL-ready. Stralman is undoubtedly the Rangers biggest loss this offseason, but it would have been difficult to keep him given the organization's blue line landscape.

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