Let's start with a hypothetical. Let's say there's a UFA D-man out there who is on a very good playoff caliber team. He plays top-4 minutes, has fantastic possession numbers, plays reasonably tough competition, and he shoots right-handed. If the Red Wings let Kyle Quincey walk as the blowing winds seem to suggest, that sounds like it checks every box on the wish list for a comparable replacement, right? It also sounds like we're talking about Matt Niskanen, but in reality we're talking about a guy who may go for as little as half the cap hit that Niskanen will go for. Let's take an in-depth look at Anton Stralman and his stellar 2013-2014 season using all kinds of fancy statistics and wizardry.
The New York Rangers have been one of the best teams in hockey all season, and they're now headed to the Stanley Cup Finals. Their blueline in particular has been quite deep and talented. Let's first take a quick and dirty look at what kind of possession numbers their blueline has put up. The Rangers basically had 5 defensemen who were in the lineup virtually every night (75+ games each), so those are the 5 we're going to compare here.
Eye-popping numbers from Stralman here, but let's dig deeper and get some better context. Let's take a look at usage for these 5 guys.
There's some variation, but what you basically have is two pretty consistent pairings - Girardi and McDonagh played top competition (they did this with primarily top line forwards) and did slightly better than break-even together as a unit. John Moore was a regular on the 3rd pairing (partners were mostly Del Zotto/Klein/Diaz) playing heavily sheltered minutes and did an okay job with it. However, the second pairing is where the Rangers really killed everybody. Staal and Stralman played slightly softer but still above-average competition and completely dominated. Staal's 54.4% and Stralman's 56.5% corsis were just phenomenal. To put it in perspective, the Red Wings were getting roughly 49-50% out of their second pairing of DeKeyser/Quincey playing very similar minutes in terms of toughness. Granted, the Rangers were a better possession team than the Red Wings, but keep in mind the Rangers were 6th and the Red Wings were 11th. The Rangers weren't that much better, so the comparison is a pretty fair one. In fact, you could easily point to the gap between the second pairings as the primary difference between the two teams, who got otherwise pretty similar performances out of their rosters. When Anton Stralman was on the ice, the Rangers were an elite possession team and put up numbers comparable to the Kings and Blackhawks. When Stralman was sitting on the bench, the Rangers were a middling break-even possession team with numbers comparable to the Phoenix Coyotes.
I wanted to see Stralman's impact on some of the bigger names on his team, so next I wanted to look at how his corsi fluctuates with or without certain teammates. Let's take a look at 3 guys - Marc Staal (most common partner), Brad Richards (most common center/forward), and Ryan McDonagh (who spends his time away from Stralman on the top pairing with Girardi). The numbers are pretty enlightening.
|Player||Corsi% w/ Stralman||Corsi% w/o Stralman|
Let's walk through each of these cases.
- Staal: his non-Stralman pairings were a mish-mash of guys, so there was no consistent backup option for him. Sometimes it was actually Girardi, sometime it was one of the revolving door of 6th D guys. Considering only about 1/4th of his ice time was away from Stralman, we can't read into this TOO much, but it's interesting that he looks extremely ordinary away from Stralman when they look so fantastic together.
- McDonagh: This guy puts up solid numbers against tough competition in his own right, so we know he's an excellent player. The minutes together were limited, but wow was this pairing ever elite when they were together. The gap here is probably slightly accounted for the fact that McDonagh plays tougher competition away from Stralman, but 8% is still a very large gap.
- Richards: This is where it gets really interesting. Richards is a top-6 center, and he plays with a mix of the top-4 defensemen. This is where we can probably get the best comparison to Stralman, because Richards minutes with each of the top-4 guys is actually remarkably even - all in the 300-400 minute range. Let's look at Richard's numbers with each of them. I'm going to include minutes played so that you get an idea of the very balanced sample sizes we're playing with here.
|Player||Corsi% w/ Richards||Minutes (5v5)|
That's probably the money shot right there. Richards has played over 300 minutes with each of the top-4 d-men, and he performs best when Anton Stralman is on the ice with him. Sure, Stralman doesn't put up tons of points, but he's really doing something right if he's making everybody this much better. There's a strong chance Stralman hits UFA given the Rangers investment into their other d-men, and Stralman has serious potential to be the steal of the UFA class. Stralman is Kyle Quincey except better, right-handed, and very likely cheaper. You aren't getting a PP QB in Stralman if you sign him and you aren't getting Ryan Suter, but you are getting a drastically underrated guy who will make everybody better at even strength. Given what you've seen here in how he improves everyone he plays with, I'll let you take your own guesses at how much on an improvement a DeKeyser/Stralman pairing could be next season. In my opinion, this would be a home run signing for the Red Wings this offseason, and he's a real name to keep an eye out for. Finally, Anton Stralman is Swedish, so if the above doesn't convince you, surely his nationality ought to do the trick.
If you want to read more about Anton Stralman, I very strongly recommend reading this piece on him written by Tyler Dellow: http://www.mc79hockey.com/2014/05/anton-stralman-secret-star. That piece is a big part of what inspired this closer look, and it's really helped create more buzz around Stralman in the Red Wings blogosphere. Read the whole thing.
WOWY stats courtesy of stats.hockeyanalysis.com
Possession/Usage stats courtesy of ExtraSkater.com