The Stanley Cup Final has been a bit of a coming out party for free agent to be Anton Stralman. The hockey world has been exposed to what astute Rangers fans have known all along; Stralman is very good at hockey. But lets put Stralman’s Stanley Cup Final performance aside for a moment. After all, he has played only 24 games in the playoffs. It makes more sense to look at a larger sample size.
Much like the mythical corsi creature that is Justin Williams, Stralman is a possession monster. The table above is Stralman’s even strength possession stats for 2009 to 2014. It breaks down Stralman’s possession share with his various defensive partners (Just a quick note: I realize that everyone after Ryan McDonagh has a very small time on ice sample size with Stralman, but do you remember Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Woywitka?).
Notice a trend? Every player that Stralman has played significant ice time with over the years is better playing with him than they are without him in terms of possession. In other words, the other defenseman are better at keeping the puck out of their own end when paired with Stralman.
The most interesting case study here is Marc Staal, who has nearly an equal amount of ice time (~1,200 minutes) with and without Stralman. When paired with Stralman, Staal has a 54.6% possession share, which is phenomenal. Without him, Staal has a possession share which is worse than Michael Del Zotto, Steve Eminger, and John Moore. The echo chamber has adopted the notion that the Rangers shouldn’t have signed Dan Girardi and should have given that money to Stralman. Which I agree with. But since there is no use crying over ink spilled on big contracts, maybe the move here is to trade Staal this summer and use his money to sign Stralman. Okay, not maybe, that is the move, but I digress.
Stralman’s possession numbers are strong in comparison to other NHL defensemen. He was 7th overall in even strength CF% rel this year (possession relative to his team’s overall ability to possess the puck). He was also 4th overall amongst defenseman in CF% rel last year.
Stralman is a free agent who will likely garner a lot of attention this summer. I have become convinced that Stralman is a top pair defenseman who is wrongly perceived as an offensive defenseman who doesn’t score; a wolf in sheep’s clothing so to speak. This perception is wrong on a couple levels. Sure, Stralman is a slick skating Swede who isn’t overly big. He may look like an offensive defenseman, but he really is a defense first player. He has a career high of seven goals and has never broke 34 points. Over the past five years, Stralman averages about 3.8 shots per 60 minutes of even strength ice time, which is basically Douglas Murray.
The Rangers top priority this summer should be keeping Stralman. Even if it is at the expense of Marc Staal. In fact, I think a strong argument can be made for trading Staal for a 1st round pick at the draft, which is really just a discussion for Rangers fans. However, at the league level, Stralman’s contract this summer will be a litmus test for how well adopted possession statistics are in NHL front offices. He is a possession monster who enters free agency at 27 years old. He has the underlying stats of a top pair defenseman, but since he doesn’t score and looks like he should, will general managers pay him the same money that Girardi got?