The New York Rangers are currently working on contract extensions for both Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi. If either is not signed by the deadline, they are more likely than not to be traded away for assets that could serve the immediate and long-term future of the club. One player who is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season but has not been in trade talks is defenseman Anton Stralman. The Swedish defender has been very steady in New York over the last three seasons. He was brought in to training camp on a tryout and was offered a contract by the club with which he has revived his NHL career.
Stralman’s key to success has been his shift in focus. When with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Columbus Blue Jackets, Stralman was known as an offensive defenseman with good vision and a heavy shot. He was a liability in his own zone and could not be counted on to play competent defense. When he joined the Rangers roster in 2011, he changed his style of play almost entirely. Though undersized at 5-foot-11 and under 200-pounds, Stralman has picked up a gritty side to his game. He is known to throw around an old-fashioned hip check now and again and is tough to play against in the corners. This adaptation for survival has made him one of the more reliable names on the Rangers’ defense over the past couple seasons.
So while the focus is on signing or trading both Callahan and Girardi, Rangers general manager Glen Sather must immediately shift his focus to re-signing Stralman. If New York moves Girardi at the deadline, re-signing Stralman is an absolute must. He has been an unsung hero for the Rangers, playing just under 20 minutes per night. That includes over a minute and a half of shorthanded ice time per game. He has given the coaches confidence in his abilities enough to the point where he plays in the crucial minutes of games.
How much would it cost to re-sign Stralman as a pending free agent? The going rate for defensemen who produce similar numbers to Stralman is in the $3 million range. Earlier in the season, $3.3 million was the number tossed around and for a defender that offers what Stralman does, and this is a reasonable contract to agree to. Newly acquired Ranger Kevin Klein comes with an annual cap hit of $2.9 million from an extension previously signed with the Nashville Predators, so using that as a starting point for Stralman is a strong negotiating tactic.
The Rangers cannot afford to lose Stralman over the summer in free agency and must shift their focus to re-signing him after the Callahan and Girardi debacles are over. If the Rangers lose both Girardi and Stralman, they will be set back by several years of team development and will struggle to be successful and give the necessary support to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Setting their sights on an extension is the next move that the Rangers’ management staff must make.