After the Tampa Bay Lightning’s defensive corps melted down in the 2014 NHL Playoffs, then-general manager Steve Yzerman knew that drastic changes had to be made in order to keep the team a playoff contender. These fixes started with a trade for Jason Garrison but came to a head during free agency.
During the 2014 free agency blitz, Tampa Bay signed then-New York Ranger Anton Stralman to a five-year, $22.5 million contract. After playing a significant role in the Rangers trip to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, Stralman looked to be the perfect defenseman to play next to Victor Hedman as he continued to develop his offensive game.
Now, five seasons later, Stralman will be departing the Lightning in order to join their cross-state rivals, the Florida Panthers. With his departure from the franchise,
Stralman a Stalwart on Defense
The start of Stralman’s career in Tampa Bay was a roaring success. In his first season, he posted a career-high nine goals and 39 points. Besides that offensive explosion, he was the Lightning’s best defensive defenseman.
Before the Lightning brought in Stralman, the team was known for having an offensively gifted, yet incredibly leaky defense. They were the type of unit that could put together solid scoring
Stralman, on the other hand, was a calming presence on the blue line. He was a smart player who could slow the game down, allowing the more offensively gifted Hedman to shine. His play was well recognized, too, as said by Tasha St. Pierre of Bolts by the Bay back in 2015:
While no team succeeds or fails on the back of
any one player, there is no denying that Anton Stralman was one of the best off-season additions thatthe Tampa Bay Lightning could have possibly made.
Injuries Derailed Stralman’s Impact
After an impressive first season with the Lightning, where he helped bolster the team to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, things were looking bright for both Stralman and the franchise.
However, a major injury struck Stralman on Mar. 25, 2016 when he suffered a broken leg against the Winnipeg Jets. This injury was stifling for the Lightning, who lost their number two defender for the majority of the playoffs. When he did return to play in the Eastern Conference Final, it was clear that he was only a shell of his normal self.
Despite returning to the lineup to start the 2016-17 season, one could tell that something wasn’t right with Stralman on the ice. He was consistently a step behind the
Stralman Adapting to a New Role
To start off the 2017-18 season, Stralman found himself in a new role with the Lightning. With rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev on the opening night roster, he was dropped to the second line in order to mentor the teenage defender.
This turned out to be a boon for both players. For Sergachev, he got to learn how to play at the NHL level from one of the Lightning’s most responsible defensemen, allowing his mistakes to be covered up. For Stralman, he was given a slightly reduced role that helped hide some of his slowing play.
While this pairing only lasted through the 2018 trade deadline, it had a major impact on the development of Sergachev while being a showcase for how important Stralman was to the franchise. He played a smart, fast game throughout the playoffs that made him appear to be back in his prime once again.
Stralman Struggles in Year 5
Stralman entered his fifth and final season in Tampa Bay with high hopes. Everything was in place for him to have a big season, as he was expected to be either Hedman’s or Ryan McDonagh’s defensive partner. Given the pedigree of either player, there was the potential for the Lightning to have a top-end defensive corps.
Injuries, once again, reared their head for Stralman. He was only able to play in 47 games, registering just two goals and 17 points. When he was on the ice, his play was far from stellar, as he was often out of place due to a general decrease in his speed and ability.
Despite Injuries, Stralman Built an Important Legacy
If not for suffering some major injuries, Stralman’s five seasons with the Lightning could have been some of the best years for any defenseman in team history. When he was healthy and playing at full form, he was, arguably, the best defensive defensemen to ever grace Tampa Bay’s ice.
It may not have ended perfectly, but the Lightning are a better team for having signed Stralman. He will always have fans in Tampa, too, just not when the Panthers come to town.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.