Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

  • Defenseman Anton Stralman, who accepted the Bruins’ standing offer of a tryout agreement on Friday and joined the Bruins on the ice the next day, does not want to talk about his potential role in Boston.

    “It’s the first day and it’s a PTO, so I’m not going to go in and talk about what I’m going to do four months from now,” Stralman said. “I’m focusing on today and tomorrow.”

    That’s probably a sound approach from the 36-year-old. A welcomed-but-late arrival to camp, Stralman jumps into the mix as your fourth-best right-shot defenseman when the Bruins are a fully healthy bunch. The Bruins were also the only team that came calling with a PTO offer, meaning that thinking about on-ice impacts four months from now isn’t something that’s been on even his mind of late.

    The big catch there, of course, is that the Bruins will be without one of the defenders ahead of him on that unofficial depth chart (Charlie McAvoy) into late November.

    So, there’s an opportunity there.

  • That’s really all that Stralman, who has twice been to a Stanley Cup Final (2014 and 2015) but never won despite a staggering 113-game playoff career, wants in 2022-23.

    “If I didn’t think this team would be successful, I wouldn’t be here,” Stralman said.

    This is especially true after his last season in the league.

    Essentially sentenced to career death in Arizona last season, Stralman put up eight goals and 23 points, along with 99 hits and 100 blocked shots, while averaging 21:21 per night in 74 games for the Coyotes last season. These aren’t exactly franchise-altering numbers, and the Swedish-born Stralman’s minus-16 rating, which was tied for the 26th-worst in hockey, doesn’t exactly inspire a ton of hope.

    But there’s being fed to the wolves, and there’s what the Yotes did with Stralman.

    One of 65 NHL defensemen to play at least 1,300 five-on-five minutes last year (stats via NaturalStatTrick), Stralman’s 37.77 offensive-zone faceoff percentage ranked 64th (only the Jackets’ Vladislav Gavrikov was lower). His 94 offensive zone starts were also the lowest among that group of 65, and with a 12-start lead on the second-lowest player (Dmitry Orlov, 106). In front of an Arizona team with woeful goaltending, Stralman was also victimized by the third-worst on-ice save percentage among that group of 65, at .8995. The numbers paint a picture that indicates that Stralman’s 2021-22 campaign was a steady diet of high-leverage ice on high-leverage ice, and without the best support behind him.

    It almost goes without saying that wouldn’t be the request in Boston.

    Unless *motions with hands* everything fell apart beyond belief.

  • ELMONT, NEW YORK - JANUARY 21: Anton Stralman #86 of the Arizona Coyotes skates against the New York Islanders at the UBS Arena on January 21, 2022 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

    ELMONT, NEW YORK – JANUARY 21: Anton Stralman #86 of the Arizona Coyotes skates against the New York Islanders at the UBS Arena on January 21, 2022 in Elmont, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

  • Instead, the Bruins would likely ask Stralman to provide some veteran know-how in a complementary, play-to-your-strengths role. And this a major need for the Bruins, really, with McAvoy and Brandon Carlo expected to be their right-side rocks, but with uncertainty behind them.

    The Bruins have hopes that the change from Bruce Cassidy to Jim Montgomery will do a high-risk player like Connor Clifton some good, and the current plan calls for left-shot defenseman Jakub Zboril, who looked strong in his first game back from a torn ACL, to move from left to right.

    But from McAvoy to Connor Carrick, the message to the defense in 2022-23 has been more offense. More shooting. More everything to make it so the Bruins aren’t so reliant on their top-of-the-roster forwards and power play. (This is something that Cassidy was repeatedly calling for prior to his dismissal, and was considered a point of contention between he and ex-assistant coach Kevin Dean.)

    And this is where Stralman could be of potentially significant help to the Black and Gold.

  • He may not be blessed with a 110-MPH bomb of a shot, but there’s no doubt that Stralman is a shooter.

    On the board with eight goals last year (that would’ve ranked second among Boston defensemen), Stralman has actually found the back of the net 16 times over the last three seasons. That’s tied for 29th-most among right-shot defensemen with at least 200 shots over that spell. And Stralman’s 7.2 shooting percentage is tied with the Panthers’ Aaron Ekblad for the sixth-best among that group of 58.

    (Non-McAvoy shooters on the Bruins last year, in case you’re wondering, shot just 3.57 percent on the season, with 21 goals on 589 shots.)

    Beyond the goals, Stralman had success with generating rebounds with his shot, as NaturalStatTrick had him credited for 0.74 rebounds created per 60 minutes of five-on-five play last year, which was the 14th-best rate among that aforementioned group of 65 with at least 1,300 five-on-five minutes.

    Boston’s top producer in that respect on the blue line was McAvoy (0.62 rebounds created per 60), and then Mike Reilly (0.52 rebounds created per 60). Given the Bruins’ desires to create more offense from in tight and with a stronger finish between the circles, having someone who can help spark those opportunities seems like an obvious boost to that quest.

    Especially when it’s a shooter on his natural side.

    “It’s exciting to have him here because he gives us another right-handed shot,” Montgomery admitted. “And I think that as a coach, you like to have a lefty and righty as much as you can because for breakouts and neutral-zone counters, pucks can go north a lot easier when you’re on your forehand.”

  • GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JANUARY 28: Anton Stralman #86 of the Arizona Coyotes warms up before the game against the Boston Bruins at Gila River Arena on January 28, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA – JANUARY 28: Anton Stralman #86 of the Arizona Coyotes warms up before the game against the Boston Bruins at Gila River Arena on January 28, 2022. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • There’s also a natural element of comfort when it comes to leaning on a Stralman — even if he’s a little long in the tooth — to adapt to a new city and more importantly a new system over players still trying to carve out full-time roles for themselves at this level in the case of a Clifton and a Zboril.

    “Anton’s really smart [and] Anton has never been a really fast, gifted skater in the league, and what I mean by that is he’s been always an above average skater, and his gift is his brain and how he competes,” Montgomery said. “Guys like that are able to extend their careers because they have the ability to adjust because of their brains in any role.”

    The Bruins could always use more of that on their backend. This would be especially true if the looming cap crunch when the fully healthy Bruins need to make move to become cap compliant sometime in late November comes at the expense of a pricier defenseman.

    And the locker room adjustment is one that Stralman, who is more than familiar with the Bruins thanks to his recent tenures with the Lightning and Panthers, can undoubtedly ease into as well.

    “It’s an organization that’s expecting to win, want to win, and that’s exciting,” Stralman said following his first skate with the club last Saturday. “So [it was a] good first day for me. Kind of ease into it a little bit and get my feet under myself and then we go from there.”

    Through two skates with the Bruins, Stralman’s most common pairing partner has been fellow Swedish defenseman Hampus Lindholm. Stralman knew Lindholm from their time together on the Swedish team at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Beyond that, however, there’s not many known relationships for the 930-game NHL veteran. But that hasn’t stopped him from picking up on the vibes of this room.

    “I think the culture is great,” Stralman said. “There’s a lot of veterans on this team, which I think is fun. I think it’s a good mix of players. When I look at this roster, there’s a lot of guys that are hitting their prime right now. And also you have guys like Bergy and guys that have won and know what it takes. I think that’s an exciting mix, and especially with the goalies too. I think it’s a fun team.”

  • Mar 25, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Arizona Coyotes defenseman Anton Stralman (86) during the face off against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 25, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Arizona Coyotes defenseman Anton Stralman (86) during the face off against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. (Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports)

  • With that in mind, however, the fun of a welcoming Boston roster and locker room also comes with a whole lot riding on this tryout opportunity.

    Conversations with the Coyotes this summer didn’t lead to a contract, and while Stralman is in Boston, his family remains in Arizona. They entered the summer thinking that they wanted to give it at least one more go on this side of the world, but leaving them for a chance to extend his NHL career was part of the reason why Stralman’s decision required more time than your usual PTO invitation.

    The factors at play here stretch from Boston to Glendale, and with the possibility of Stralman staring down the end of his playing career. But that heaviness has seemingly come with a ‘let the chips fall where they may’ mindset from Stralman ahead of a potential five-game trial with the Bruins.

    “At the end of the day, if, if there’s a spot available, awesome. If not, that’s life,” Stralman offered.

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