Free Agent Target: Anton Stralman

Anton Stralman is in the midst of a career-defining playoff run with the New York Rangers, but he's also an impending unrestricted free agent who seems underrated by many. The Senators should pursue him, if he gets to free agency.

For a year and a half, I've been harping on one thing I think the Ottawa Senators need the most: A top-pairing defenceman to play alongside Erik Karlsson. Although he's done well with Filip Kuba and Marc Methot, and even managed to drag Jared Cowen out of his funk, Karlsson's never really played with a truly complementary top-pairing partner: a big-minute defender who can support Karlsson when he takes offensive chances, but can also come close to keeping up with him offensively. Methot can do the former and Kuba did the latter, but neither could do both. Guys like Jay Bouwmeester and Christian Ehrhoff are players I've highlighted in the past.

Anton Stralman is not one of those players. He's a pretty good defensive defender who can move the puck out of the zone, but he's not likely a top-pairing guy any more than Filip Kuba was. He's also right-handed, and thus not an ideal partner for Karlsson. But Stralman remains a very good target for the Ottawa Senators to focus in on, and that's in no small part due to the possibility that he's undervalued around the league.

In a recent post, Tyler Dellow (aka mc79) highlighted the "ridiculous Corsi numbers" that Stralman's put up over the last couple of seasons with the New York Rangers. But because guys like Stralman doesn't dazzle with big hits or offensive production, the Old Boys who run many NHL teams seem to look past him--which could open the door for a bargain-hunting team like the Senators to snag a deal.

Some might point to the fact that he's been playing with Marc Staal as a factor in Stralman's strong play, but a look at the WOWY numbers shows that he's not reliant on Staal to drive possession:

So there's that.

Stralman, in a lot of ways, reminds me of Marc Methot--albeit with less physical presence and a much better ability to advance the puck. I think he'd be a great partner for Methot on the team's second pairing in a shutdown role; the fact that he's right-handed will slot him between Karlsson and Cody Ceci on that side of the blue line depth chart. If Paul MacLean finally decides to run Patrick Wiercioch with Karlsson (a pairing which had some success in short stints last year), they could be used almost entirely on the offensive- and neutral-zone faceoffs they can make the most of, while Methot-Stralman handle the toughest starts.

Thinking long-term, if the Senators can't afford to re-sign Methot or if one of Cowen, Mark Borowiecki, or Fredrik Claessen take big steps in their development, then one of those younger players could join Stralman on the team's shutdown defensive pairing. Bringing in a capable and defensively-oriented right-handed veteran blueliner is a sensible move for the Senators to address their short-term needs as well as their longer-term succession plans to ease developing players up through the ranks.

Reports came out in March that Stralman had rejected a three-year, $9M contract offer from the Rangers, so it looks like it'll take more than that (in money or term or both) to bring him on board. The Rangers, though, don't have much more cap space to play with: Even if the cap goes up to $71.1M, they've still got just over $17M to re-sign restricted free agents Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, and Chris Kreider plus at least three more forwards and two more defenceman. Unless they shuffle some players off, they probably won't have the space to retain Stralman.

Possible comparable contracts for Stralman may be that of Dan Girardi (six years, $33M, cap hit of $5.5M) or Andrew MacDonald (six years, $30M, cap hit of $5M)--but the hope is that Stralman is undervalued on the market. If an offer of between $4-4.5M per season over five or six years would work, I think the Senators would be wise to jump on it.

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