This week between the NHL Draft and Free Agent Frenzy, here at AATJ we have been profiling different upcoming unrestricted free agents that the New Jersey Devils could potentially look to bring in to boost their chances this year. It is clear they are looking to do just this to appease and get Taylor Hall to re-sign long term, with the PK Subban trade signaling that loud and clear. And while the Subban deal adds much needed top pairing talent to the Devils’ blue line, there is little doubt that they are still shallow on the back end. Would bringing in veteran defender Anton Stralman help to address that hole? Will it be worth it? Let’s take a dive in and check it out.
Stralman was a 7th round selection in the 2005 NHL draft by Toronto. He played two seasons for the big club there, from 2007-2009. In those years, he racked up 4 goals and 18 assists combined in 88 games played. While still on his ELC, he was traded to Calgary along with a couple of other pieces for Wayne Primeau and a 2nd rounder. However, he never played a game for the only other Canadian organization he was a part of. Two months and a day later, he was traded to Columbus straight up for a 3rd rounder. He then finished out his ELC in Columbus and signed a one year deal on top of that. In his two seasons in Columbus, encompassing 124 games, he produced 7 goals and 45 assists, a clear improvement on his days in Toronto.
Despite that, he was not signed initially after his last season in Columbus. For those who may remember, at this point he came to New Jersey on a tryout basis for training camp and the preseason. However, Lou Lamoriello decided not to sign him to a deal at that time, despite his clear improvement in Columbus and that he was still young, only 25 at the time. Instead, the team carried the likes of Mark Fraser, Anton Volchenkov, Henrik Tallinder, and Mark Fayne. Oh well.
Instead, Stralman would go across the Hudson River to Manhattan, signing a 1-year, $900k deal with New York. And that would work out fairly well for them sadly. In 53 games, he would produce 18 points, but as a solid defensive defenseman, was given a longer deal after that to the tune of 2 years, $1.7 million per year. In those two years, he would play in all but one regular season game for the red white and blue, helping to solidify the depth of their blue line and helping them reach a Cup Final before losing to Los Angeles (thankfully).
With the success he reached in Manhattan, Stralman would follow seemingly many of his former teammates and head down to Tampa. In the 2014 offseason, he would sign a 5 year, $22.5 million deal with them, which gave him an average annual value of $4.5 million, way better than the $1.7 he was making up here. In the first four years of that deal, he played in at least 73 games a year, spending the overwhelming majority of his 5v5 ice time playing alongside stud Victor Hedman. And that pair obviously did work together, Hedman producing quality offense while Stralman backed him up and focused more on the defensive side of things. Of course, he would see another Stanley Cup Finals with Tampa in 2015, but would again be on the losing side, this time to Chicago.
This past season, Stralman was limited to only 47 regular season games thanks to a lower body issue. With Tampa having lots of different people to sign this offseason, and given that he will be 33 come the start of the season, the odds that he will remain down in Tampa is not all that likely unless he takes a significant pay cut.
By the Numbers
As a defensive defenseman mostly, his numbers will never make Stralman an analytics darling, as you know. In terms of possession, his time in Columbus was very positive, posting a 51.57% CF% over the two seasons, equating to a relative CF of +3.53%. His relative Corsi jumped even more when playing in New York for those three seasons, posting a relative CF of +4.84% on an overall CF% of 54.58, again an excellent number. Over his first three seasons in Tampa, he maintained his strong possession play, with a CF% of 54.15 and a relative CF% of 2.83. Over the last two seasons, however, there finally is a decline in his possession numbers, with his relative Corsi dipping into the negative for the first time, sitting at -0.59%, and his overall Corsi coming in just over neutral at 50.75%.
So overall, in terms of possession, Stralman has been a reliably positive possession player, one who helps to drive possession forward. While his overall Corsi numbers can definitely be seen to be inflated to a degree by playing on strong teams almost every single year since signing in New York, his strong relative Corsi numbers back up that he was not simply just brought along. He helped those teams dominate in possession. However, the numbers over his last two seasons in Tampa show definite decline in this area. Whether that is from age and a decline in skills, or from his injury this past season, it will be hard to determine exactly. But to say that age has no part in it is probably wrong.
To show decline in this past season, and really over the last few, here are his charts from Evolving Hockey from this past season, again one he only played 47 games in due to injury:
However, to get a better picture, here is a multi-year chart from 2015-2018 with Tampa. But again, do remember that as a defensive defenseman, he is not going to shine in these types of graphs where others who are more offensively-minded and drive play forward tend to be.
When healthy, his goals for, expected goals, and Corsi were all exceptionally better and show what he brought to the table. But as you can see, these aren’t insanely good charts overall either. What about GAR?
Here you see some better numbers for him. Even last year, his WAR and GAR were always positive, his best WAR year coming in Tampa’s trip to the Finals playing alongside Hedman. Of course, the disturbing part of these charts is the seeming decline of them, especially the GAR chart. Both charts really peaked by 2015 and have gone down since, his WAR pretty steeply despite the recovery in 2017-18. This pairs well with what we saw from his possession numbers too. He was not the same player over the last two-three years that he was when in his late 20s. Whoever signs Stralman is not getting peak Stralman, that has to be known.
Finally, here is the chart from CJ’s public tableau showing Stralman’s numbers over the past three seasons:
These numbers look pretty good despite the decline. He produces well in defensive breakups and allowing possession into the defensive zone, as well as contributing in shot assists and exiting the defensive zone. He is quite poor at gaining the offensive zone, but no one relies on him for this anyway. So in reality, while decline is clear from the WAR and GAR charts, the Stralman still around is not bad by any means.
Is He a Fit for the Devils?
Here comes the big question. You now know where Stralman is in his career, his numbers over the past few seasons, and where perhaps he is now with the decline in his game, and especially with the injury last season. Is he someone Ray Shero should be targeting come July 1?
With the PK signing, here is what the blue line could possibly look like come opening night if nothing else changed:
Vatanen – Subban
Greene – Severson
Butcher – Smith
Now on the surface, that isn’t a bad group right there. Adding Subban gives the Greene-Severson pairing the ability to see something other than the opposition’s top competition at all times. That should improve their numbers across the board. Subban-Vatanen should help to generate some quality offense. Then you have Butcher and Smith inserted in a sheltered role with lots of offensive zone faceoffs where they can crush weaker competition. Overall, not a bad look.
Where would Stralman fit into that? In reality, as a right defenseman, he would slide in where I penciled in Ty Smith. If the Devils organization feels that Smith is not ready for a full time role in the NHL, they will need to fill that hole on the right side of the defense. Stralman could be someone to fill that hole. He would be a veteran presence who could help the development of Will Butcher. And since he would be playing in a bottom 4 role on defense, instead of with Hedman against top competition, his game could really get a nice boost from where it has been going.
The question then is would the money it took to sign him be worth it for him to fill that role? According to EW’s Contract Projections, Stralman is projected to garner a 3 year deal in the AAV range of $4.475 million per. That is a rather large cap hit for a 2nd or 3rd pairing defenseman. His last deal got him $4.5 million per. I honestly am not sure if he still gets a deal with similar AAV. At 33 this upcoming season, he is not fully in decline, but I don’t believe he is in the same position he was five years ago as a 28 year old.
So I guess for my opinion, if he will get what EvolvingWild projects, I would not look to sign Stralman. That would lock him in through his age 35 season at a high cap rate, in the range of what Severson and Vatanen are making. That just seems a little high for me, especially since the hope is that sooner rather than later, his job would be usurped by Ty Smith. If you told me I could get him for less than that, however, maybe in the range $3 million per year, I would be much more interested for someone I want to play 2nd-3rd pairing minutes and against that level of competition. And even if Smith is ready sooner rather than later, injuries happen , and having someone like Stralman ready to plug in and play important minutes would not go wasted. But at over $4 million a season? Not for me.
Now you’ve heard my thoughts. He could fit as a 2nd-3rd pairing right D, but I would only consider him if on a discount from what he was getting in his last deal. What do you think? Would you be happy signing him for $4 million per year or higher? Would you consider signing him at a lower rate? Or would you be against signing Stralman altogether? Do you think he is declining too far to become truly useful for what he would be making in his upcoming contract? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading!