Anton Stralman isn’t happy with the Rangers and he has good reason to be. In a recent interview with Hockey Sverige, the formers Rangers defenseman had the following to say regarding his (lack of) contract negotiations with the team:
I wanted to be there and it seemed that the Rangers wanted to keep me well. I was fully set to be left and the dream was also to be allowed to stay there. We, both me and the family has moved around enough. New York came up with an offer and we came up with a counter offer and after that we were prepared to negotiate, but there was nothing. They do not even come back to me.
When Stralman signed his five year, $22.5 million contract with the Lightning, it was easy to speculate that he was not the Rangers first choice. His $4.5 million annual cap hit was identical to the deal they eventually gave Dan Boyle. Stralman’s quote confirms the speculation from July. Which means, Glen Sather and Co. voluntarily signed whatever is left of Dan Boyle as a 38 year old defenseman for two years instead of keeping a 28 year old for five. When Stralman’s contract expires with the Lightning, he will still be five years younger than Boyle is right now.
Stralman has consistently been one of the best defensemen in league at driving possession towards the opposition’s ends of the ice. He was 7th in CF% rel this year and 4th last year. His CF% in relation to his defensive partners over his career confirms his prowess as a possession monster:
Every defensive partner Stralman has played significant 5 on 5 minutes with has been better with him than without him; often significantly so. Marc Staal has played over 1,200 5 on 5 minutes with Stralman (all of last season and most of the prior year) and has nearly an 8% drop in possession when not paired with his former partner. The Rangers had success in the playoffs last year because they were one of the best possession team’s in the NHL. To not include their best driver of possession from the blue line in their off-season plans is an indictment of management’s understanding as to what made them so successful in the first place.
Boyle was signed over Stralman because he has a history of being strong on the power play. For as good of a defensive defenseman as Stralman is, he adds very little offensive production. Over the past two years Boyle has been worth nearly 1.5 power play points per 60 minutes more than the Rangers’ defensemen cumulative production over the last three seasons.
However, his production was inflated last year by a shooting percentage that was double his career rate on the power play. Considering the Rangers mediocrity on the power play last season, it is easy to expect Boyle’s shooting percentage to regress to his average this coming season. Boyle is undoubtedly a better option than any other Rangers defenseman for the power play, but that has more to do with the team’s poor options. Boyle is not a top tier power play threat; he ranked 34th overall in the league in power play production for defensemen last year.
Boyle’s ability to improve the power play for $9m over two years is overvalued. The contract looks really bad though when considering that Boyle doesn’t have the legs and the ability to replace Stralman’s even strength minutes, which is exactly what he will be asked to do. Over the past three years, he’s roughly been an even possession player for the Sharks:
Boyle is a talented hockey player on the last two holes of the back nine. His possession figures make sense in that they keep pace, though barely so. They aren’t particularly bad, but they’re nowhere near as strong as Stralman’s. It’s easy to project that Boyle’s possession ability won’t improve as a 38 year old and will be much worse by age 39 in the last year of his deal. Combine declining possession ability with power play production that isn’t top tier and you have yourself a really poor contract decision.
The fact that Boyle was preferred to Stralman brings the Rangers recent playoff success into question. Maybe Glen Sather’s strategy has benefited more from luck than savvy roster construction? Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but it’s always better to have Anton Stralman for five years than Dan Boyle for two.