Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America
When the Rangers inked Anton Stralman to his one-year deal last season, many looked at it as a great low risk option to help round out the defense. After spending the first month of the season attempting to prove himself to the coaching staff, Stralman eventually saw top-four minutes while filling in for the injured Michael Sauer and recovering Marc Staal. He earned himself a two-year, $3.4 million deal in the offseason with his strong play.
In the salary cap age, getting a bang for your buck is one of the most important factors in offseason decisions. Stralman doubled his salary, and now is carrying an almost $2 million cap hit. With that increased salary comes increased expectations. At a bare minimum, Stralman would have to repeat his performance last season –specifically in the playoffs– to be “worth” that contract. It took an injury for him to showcase his talent, but the young defenseman showed that Slats anc company made the right decision to retain him.
When Dan Girardi went down with his injury, we focused primarily on the hole on the bottom pairing (since rectified a bit by Matt Gilroy). But Stralman was forced into a role as a top-two defenseman with Ryan McDonagh. Stralman excelled in every aspect, elevating his game to a level we hadn’t seen before. Stralman showed he was capable of playing 25 minutes a night.
With Girardi’s return to the lineup last night, Stralman was shifted back down to a pairing with Gilroy, a player we talked about yesterday earning Torts’ trust. Neither player will see 25 minutes of ice time while playing on the bottom pairing. But with Gilroy able to take up 10 minutes and Stralman able to take up another 20 takes the stress off of the top four guys, specifically Girardi and McDonagh.
Depth goes a long way, especially come playoff time. We saw it last season when Stu Bickel was barely playing and the Rangers top-five guys were incredibly burned out by the time the Conference Finals rolled around. Starting to roll all six guys with regularity will keep everyone fresh in the truncated season. Stralman’s ability to play a dual role for this club (as a bottom-pairing guy and as a top-four guy) just adds to that much needed depth.