It’s no secret that the New York Rangers are looking to adjust their defensive group. A team once built from the back out, has now found tremendous forward depth, but inconsistent defensive effort.
When you look over the past several seasons, the Rangers attempted to acquire defensive players to ail a failing power play. Look at the acquisitions of Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle, for example.
However, this season the Rangers power play efforts are not a concern as a strong forward core has allowed the team to remain amongst the top of the NHL.
What is lacking, however, is sounds defensive play.
Net front coverage, strong play along the boards and cohesive player movements have all been missing too many times this season. Unlike years past, the goaltending hasn’t been able to bail out defensive miscues.
But perhaps the key to a Rangers defensive turnaround isn’t a high-powered deadline acquisition such as Kevin Shattenkirk or Jacob Trouba, but rather a familiar face who may be able to find his way back to Broadway.
Anton Stralman, a former right-handed Rangers defender, never wanted to leave New York. Former General Manager Glen Sather took a chance on Boyle in lieu of re-signing Stralman in 2014. Thus, Stralman headed south and signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning on a five-year $22 million contract.
However, while the Lightning-Stralman marriage has generally been agreeable, the Lightning are looking to re-tool and find some cap relief and the Rangers may be able to offer it.
Assuming no bad blood exists between the organizations after the Martin St. Louis saga (we don’t believe there is), the Rangers can offer a package of Kevin Klein ($2.9 million cap-hit, signed thru 2017-18), a goaltending prospect such as Brandon Halverson and a 2nd or 3rd round pick in exchange for Stralman ($4.5 million cap-hit , signed thru 2018-19).
Stralman has a modified no-trade clause, but Klein is completely unencumbered, which would also allow him to be exposed in the NHL Expansion Draft.
Currently, Stralman is playing on the second pairing in Tampa Bay alongside Nikita Nesterov, but he could fill the top-pairing slot in New York alongside Ryan McDonagh. That would allow a second pairing perhaps of Brady Skjei and Nick Holden and a final pairing of veterans Marc Staal and Dan Girardi with Adam Clendening rotating thru the final pairing to provide rest as needed.
While this is purely speculation, it would get the Rangers a top-four right-handed defenseman and still allow them to pursue Shattenkirk in the offseason without giving up a King’s ransom. Conversely, Tampa Bay would get cap relief, depth in their goaltending prospect pool, a decent pick and some flexibility at the NHL Expansion Draft.
There’s no telling that Stralman would ever wish to return to New York, but he did flourish in Head Coach Alain Vigneault’s system and has not recaptured the same success in Tampa Bay.
So while we all love a good “blockbuster” trade, perhaps working a little closer to home is best for the Blueshirts.