With training camps roughly a month away, the majority of NHL teams have their rosters fully in place, or at least very close to. That said, there are always minor tweaks general managers (GM) are looking to make prior to and even during the season in order to give their team a competitive edge. For any looking to do so right now, it would be worth their while to take a look at some still available free agents, as a few intriguing names are remaining on the market.
One of those intriguing names is Anton Stralman, who spent the 2021-22 season out in the desert with the Arizona Coyotes. Long gone are the days when he was viewed as one of the most underrated defensemen in the entire NHL, but make no mistake; the recently turned 36-year-old can still play.
In 74 games this past season, Stralman put up a respectable eight goals and 23 points on a team that ranked dead last in scoring. He also averaged an impressive 21:20 minutes of ice time per game, a number which ranked him third on the Coyotes behind only Jakob Chychrun and Shayne Gostisbehere. Of those 21:20 minutes, 2:56 of them were averaged on the penalty kill, which ranked second on his team behind only Dysin Mayo. Safe to say, he can still help in many facets of the game, and these three teams, in particular, could really benefit from adding him.
A quick glance at the Montreal Canadiens depth chart will show you that their blue line is nowhere near good enough to be remotely competitive in the 2022-23 season. As of now, their projected three defenseman on the right side – a side in which Stralman plays – are David Savard, Justin Barron and Chris Wideman. While Savard is a competent NHL blueliner, Barron, at 20 years old, is very inexperienced, and Wideman would fail to crack several other teams’ rosters.
Adding Stralman, who would come in at a very cheap cost, would not only allow them to ease Barron in with fewer minutes but also give him and Jordan Harris a good mentor. Stralman, who is just 70 games away from 1000, has not only been around the game for a long time but during his prime was one of the league’s best shutdown defensemen. While he would by no means be a game breaker, he is a player who can be trusted in all situations and would be great insurance to have given the major inexperience on this current Habs back end.
The one question is how GM Kent Hughes could make this work. As of now, he has just under $250,000 in available cap, meaning he would need to do some slight maneuvering to make room for a Stralman deal. On top of that, he still needs to make room in order to sign Kirby Dach, who is currently without a contract for the 2022-23 season. One player who had been brought in trade rumors earlier this offseason was Christian Dvorak, who with a cap hit of $4.45 million would free up the room needed to both re-sign Dach and bring in Stralman. This, of course, is all pure speculation but is an option to consider for Hughes, as he desperately needs to improve his team’s blue line.
The Vancouver Canucks looked to improve their blue line last offseason by acquiring Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the Coyotes while also handing Tucker Poolman a rather surprising four-year deal in free agency. To the surprise of very few, it didn’t work out as management had hoped and was a big part of the reason the Canucks missed the playoffs for the second straight year.
Heading into 2022-23, the Canucks top three right-hand shot options are Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn and Poolman. Myers is a solid NHL defenceman albeit on a bad contract, while Schenn and Poolman are both better served as depth options. Bringing in Stralman would provide not only insurance but likely an upgrade on what is a very weak right side as of now.
Bringing in Stralman would take some work for GM Patrik Allvin, as his club sits roughly $2.7 million over the maximum cap. That said, there are still plenty of rumors as to whether or not J.T. Miller and his $5.25 cap hit will be around by the time training camp begins, while both Conor Garland and Tanner Pearson have had their names discussed in potential trades as well. If any of the three were to be moved, that would be more than enough to bring in Stralman for the 2022-23 campaign.
To anyone who has been paying attention over the last six months, especially this offseason, it has become painfully clear what the Chicago Blackhawks are looking to do. They are doing everything in their power to trade some of their top players for future assets, and in turn, are fine with struggling over the next few years in order to have some great draft selections. That said, their current blue line, even for a tanking team, simply won’t cut it.
As of now, the six defensemen expected to be in their opening night lineup are Connor Murphy, Seth Jones, Jake McCabe, Riley Stillman, Caleb Jones and Alex Vlasic. That is a whole lot of inexperience, and also places a ton of pressure on Vlasic, who at the age of 21 has just 15 career games under his belt. It is also likely that, as of now, Caleb Jones is being slotted in on the right side, though he is much more comfortable on the left. If Stralman were to be signed to a cheap, one-year deal, this would allow the 25-year-old to slide back to his normal position.
As far as a fit cap-wise, the Blackhawks would have no issues bringing in Stralman. They not only have no restricted free agents remaining but boast over $8 million in cap space. Signing the veteran blueliner would allow them to better develop a young player such as Vlasic, while also still allowing them to finish near the bottom of the standings which they are very much trying to do.
Stralman Will Have to Settle
While none of the three teams listed above will be contenders or likely even playoff teams in 2022-23, Stralman doesn’t have the ability at this point in his career to pick and choose where he goes. Simply put, if he wants to continue playing in the NHL, he is at the point where he will need to accept any deal offered his way. That said, he does still possess NHL capabilities, and one of the three teams on this list would be wise to give him an opportunity to prove just that.