TAMPA, Fla. — Anton Stralman stood in a small room at Tampa Bay Times Forum, wearing new professional colors as a sign of his trust. The veteran defenseman agreed to a five-year, $22.5 million deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning last Tuesday, and the sight never would be possible without faith in his new franchise’s possible rise.
Stralman, who spent the past three seasons with the New York Rangers, was eager to look the part Tuesday morning. He wore a blue collared shirt with a small white Lightning logo stitched below his left shoulder. He sought long-term stability in free agency and received it.
He could sense momentum building in Tampa Bay. Now, he wants to embrace it as his own.
"This team really excites me," Stralman said. "I think this team is very promising. It has been very interesting the last few years, and obviously, (Lightning vice president and general manager) Steve Yzerman has done a great, tremendous job with it. And when you’re making your choice, you want to see progress in the team in a positive way, obviously. And I think this team has all those criteria."
The Lightning see plenty in Stralman too. At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, he earned one goal and 13 points with a plus-9 rating in 81 regular-season games with New York last season. He totaled 12 assists, and his 104 shots on goal were third among Rangers defensemen. He became known for steady consistency at his position.
Stralman, 27, owns a postseason perspective that could prove valuable to younger members of Tampa Bay’s roster. He played in 25 playoff games with New York in its advancement to the Stanley Cup Final, where the Los Angeles Kings won in five games. Yzerman has praised Stralman’s skating skill, and the Tampa Bay executive sees more offensive potential in Stralman’s future.
"I like the way Tampa plays," Stralman said. "It’s always fun games coming in here. They play very offensive. Offensively, they counter with a lot of people all the time. That’s something that’s really attractive to be a part of. … So hopefully, it will help me to find my offensive game a little bit better."
A native of Tibro, Sweden, Stralman anticipates gains made by Tampa Bay under coach Jon Cooper last season will continue. With additional notable free-agent signings of forward Brian Boyle and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to complement forward Ryan Callahan’s return, Stralman called the Lightning "close to complete." He said he contacted Callahan before agreeing to terms, and Stralman liked what he heard.
Stralman has a seasoned outlook to make an accurate reading concerning his future. He has played in 394 NHL games during stints with the Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs. He has 18 goals and 112 points in seven NHL seasons. He has participated in 55 Stanley Cup playoff games, all with New York in the last three seasons.
Selected by the Maple Leafs in the seventh round, 216th overall, in the 2005 NHL draft, he has come far since starting the 2011-12 campaign without a contract. That year, he entered training camp with the New Jersey Devils on a tryout deal before the Rangers signed him that November.
"That’s exactly what we were looking for," Stralman said of his stability. "Going into free agency, all we really wanted was a long deal and security in the deal."
Stalman’s stamina next season will be interesting to follow. The 81 regular-season games last season were a career-high total, surpassing the 73 in which he played for the Blue Jackets during the 2009-10 campaign. In five of his NHL seasons, he has played in no more than 53.
Still, if he lives the potential Yzerman sees in him, Stralman will be an attractive addition for Tampa Bay as it enters its second full season under Cooper. If that’s the case, the trust from all parties involved will be well-placed.
"I’m really happy and appreciate very much what Tampa came up with," Stralman said.