Three years ago, Anton Stralman was on a training camp tryout with the Devils, a journeyman defenseman hoping to land on his third team in five seasons.
On Tuesday, Stralman, 27, was one of the most coveted defensemen on the market, given a five-year, $22.5 million deal with the Lightning that he said includes a no-trade clause. For Stralman, who has a wife and four kids, it was the stability he has long desired.
"It's been quite a journey," he said. "We've had a lot of ups and downs. Hopefully this is a step where it settles down and hopefully goes even better."
Stralman headlined a Lightning trio of signings on the opening day of free agency. Tampa Bay also added Stralman's New York Rangers teammate, center Brian Boyle, 29, on a three-year, $6 million deal and backup goalie Evgeni Nabokov on a one-year, $1.55 million pact. Tampa Bay, which made three trades Sunday to help give it $13 million heading into free agency, fulfilled all its needs and still has $5.7 million left.
"We're very happy with the guys we got," general manager Steve Yzerman said.
Stralman was a combined plus-32 the past three seasons with the Rangers and had a strong showing in their playoff run to the Stanley Cup final. He could be in the No. 1 pairing with fellow Swede Victor Hedman. Stralman, at 5 feet 11, 190 pounds, has just 18 goals in seven NHL seasons (with the Leafs, Blue Jackets and Rangers) but is strong in his own zone and has a right-handed shot that was very important to Tampa Bay. And like Jason Garrison, acquired from the Canucks on Friday, Stralman can play 20 minutes per game and in all situations.
"He's a really solid defender, very reliable, very good skater," Yzerman said. "With the addition of he and Garrison, we think our 'D' is a little bit bigger, little bit more mobile, and we're reasonably deep."
Yzerman said Boyle, a 6-foot-7, 244-pound forward, will help replace recently traded Nate Thompson. "Really big man, good defender, good penalty-killer," Yzerman said. Boyle had other suitors but felt Tampa Bay was the best fit, plus his wife is from the area, agent Paul Krepelka said. The couple was honeymooning in Hawaii, so Boyle was unavailable Tuesday.
Yzerman said wing Ryan Callahan was a great resource in learning about his two former Rangers teammates. "A wealth of information," Yzerman said.
Nabokov, a proven veteran, has played very well in recent years, including going 15-14 with a 2.74 goals against average in 40 games with the Islanders last season, his 13th in the NHL. "I understand my age, people talk about it," Nabokov said. "But I don't feel it."
Yzerman said Nabokov provides insurance if there's an injury to starter Ben Bishop, and he can be a mentor to top goalie prospects Andrei Vasilevskiy and Kristers Gudlevskis, who will play for Syracuse in the American Hockey League. Tampa Bay also considered Anders Lindback, who signed a one-year, $925,000 deal with the Stars and Chad Johnson, who signed with the Islanders.
The Lightning was interested in former Tampa Bay standout Dan Boyle, who signed with the Rangers (two years, $9 million). Sabres buyout Christian Ehrhoff went to the Penguins (one year, $4 million) and Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen to the Capitals (seven years, $40.25 million). Tampa Bay was a finalist for Jarome Iginla, who went to the Avalanche (three years, $16 million).
"There were a lot of players we had our eyes on that went other places," Yzerman said.
The Lightning did sign forwards Mike Blunden and Mike Angelidis to one-year, two way deals, providing some depth at Syracuse. And Yzerman says he expects to sign restricted free agents Andrej Sustr, Brett Connolly and Richard Panik.
Otherwise, Yzerman says, the Lightning is pretty much done. "Looks like we'll be quiet."