Saturday, September 11, 2010

Time to step up: Anton Stralman

  • Defenseman
  • 24 years old, 4th year in National Hockey League
  • $1,950,000 cap hit 
  • 3.3% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at the end of this season
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 73 games played, 6 goals, 28 assists, 34 points, -17, 37 penalty minutes, 20:29 avg. time on ice
Anton Stralman once again gets to prove that he's worthy of the
big money that goes to high-scoring NHL defensemen
On July 28, we had no idea whether Anton Stralman was going to remain a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  He was coming up to his arbitration hearing and, at the eleventh hour, chose to avoid the ego-bruising  process and took nearly $2 million in the process.

He also gets to go through it all again next off-season.  Stralman only signed a one-year deal and is a restricted free agent once again.  That means he negotiates with the Blue Jackets, accepts a tender offer from a team that's willing to compensate the CBJ for losing him, or he goes back to arbitration.  Makes for an interesting season to come, don't you think?

Stralman clearly thinks that he's worth more than $1.95 million, which is the number he settled for in lieu of arbitration.  I mean look at Niklas Hjalmarsson, whose San Jose Sharks offer sheet was matched by the Chicago Blackhawks.  Hjnarlwisxzcd had fewer goals (2) and assists (15), but he also had a better plus-minus (+9) and now is going to be enjoying a four-year run while carrying a $3.5 million cap hit.  Such is life when you're a pawn in Stanley Cup contender salary cap games - and, in Stralman's case, when you're on a team that got their top-five draft pick the old-fashioned way.

Sure, he can shoot...but where's the consistent
defense from Anton Stralman?
So Stralman takes a one-year contract for very good, perhaps somewhere close to market rate, money and gets to go through that mess all over again.  More power to him.  I've spent more time elsewhere talking about the contract and what it means in the grand CBJ scheme of things, so go check that out if you're interested.  Let's use the rest of this post to consider his on-ice ability and potential.

The first thing that strikes me every time I open the Stralman book is his age.  He's only 24, placing him firmly on the "youngsters" side of the CBJ roster.  For whatever reason - perhaps that he's already logged time with the Toronto Maple Leafs and had a cup of coffee in the Calgary Flames camp - I always think that he's more like 27-28 years old.  But no, he's still pretty young and has a lot of good hockey ahead of him.

Stralman brought two desperately-needed components to the team when Scott Howson traded away a third-round pick for him on September 28, 2009: The ability to manage a power play and a great right-handed shot.  Our team desperately needed those attributes, and he did a decent job providing both, leading the CBJ defensemen in both assists and points.  Stralman shoots from the point, giving the team a defensive sniper, and he's a pretty good set-up man as a result.

Clearly, the -17 on the season is the only tangible reason why Stralman isn't in the upper eschelon of young defenders.  Like so many other Blue Jackets whose contracts expire this season, he's on the clock to make those improvements and get the huge payday that he feels he deserves.  Even with that giant mark on his record, it's not like he's starting from scratch on the defensive front.  Every now and then, he can pull a wicked hit out of his bag:

But this is the one that really opened my eyes to Anton Stralman's defensive potential - a hit on Vinny Lecavalier while Stralman was in Toronto:

Good stuff.

Considering all of the angles on Stralman, I suggest that either he gets his defensive game in gear by the all-star break and becomes The Invaluable Defenseman that he appears to think he should be, or he gets dangled out as trade bait at the deadline.  There's just too much young talent in the pipeline (and veteran talent with defensive prowess who would take his money in a heartbeat) to have him hold the Blue Jackets hostage for another summer.  

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