One of the more underrated aspects of the Rangers recent impressive stretch is Anton Stralman stepping up and playing solidly on the second pair. Increased minutes (17/game), sound defense (+9 rating) and a decent offensive game (5 assists in just 12 games); Stralman has helped ease the Rangers through a torrid stretch of injuries on their blue line. However, we probably shouldn’t get used to Stralman patrolling the Rangers blue line.
There’s a very good chance Stralman is auditioning for the rest of the NHL. The Rangers are pretty stacked on the blue line. With Marc Staal and Mike Sauer set to return and with Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Mike Del Zotto all core pieces of the blue line going forward there’s only really one spot left to fight over on the blue line with lots of candidates aiming for that spot six.
The also-impressive (surprising) Stu Bickel, Dylan McIlrath and Tim Erixon will all also be in the mix for the final spot next season. Steve Eminger and Jeff Woywitka (at this point in time) may also be considered, especially Eminger. Hopefully with Erixon getting big minutes in CT, he’ll be ready for a full time NHL role next season making competition at camp intense.
Stralman could be a viable candidate from the Rangers point of view. As we’ve said, he’s proven he can handle minutes and make plays at both ends of the ice but the main reason he’s probably not a realistic option for next year is price. The better Stralman plays, the higher his price will be. He may command double his current 900k on the open market. He may command more. Warped theory suggests that the Rangers want to hope they can’t afford him next year because it’ll mean he’s played well enough to command a raise.
The thing is, while the actual $$/sum for Stralman may not be prohibitive the Rangers likely won’t want to invest too much more money in the defensive part of the roster, especially with new deals (AKA raises) on the horizon for Del Zotto and McDonagh. With significant salaries already tied into Staal and Girardi, and the aforementioned raises on the blue line due, the more realistic options are a cheap contract like Eminger or a prospect like Bickel.
The best case scenario for Rangers fans is Stralman plays out an impressive season and earns himself a good contract in the NHL; maybe with the Rangers, probably not. Here’s hoping both the Rangers and the fans enjoy this very public audition. It’s in everyone’s interests it keeps going well.