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Anton Strålman’s disappointing season puts his Lightning future in question

With injury marring his March and April, Tampa Bay must decide if he’s still in the plans

(This is the fifth in a series this month looking at each player on the Lightning’s roster. Up next: Cedric Paquette)

TAMPA — Planning for the end of anything can be difficult. But not knowing when that end is coming might be more challenging.

Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman couldn’t have expected his 2018-19 season to end with a month-long lower-body injury coming out of a March 5 game against the Jets. He missed all but two of the team’s remaining 18 regular-season games and all four first-round playoff games against the Blue Jackets.

It was a disappointing conclusion for the 12-year veteran, 32, who also missed more than a month early in the season with an upper-body injury.

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: Brayden Point tops break out season with better results

Stralman played just 47 games in all, and his offensive numbers were two goals and 15 assists.

Also, Stralman was often part of the defense rotation coach Jon Cooper implemented. All the defensemen with the exceptions of Ryan McDonagh and Victor Hedman made their rounds going in and out of the lineup. However, it always appeared as though when Stralman played, he was filling in for whoever was out that game. He never had a set pairing.

Now Stralman can be an unrestricted free agent July 1. Facing a salary-cap crunch, the Lightning has to decide if Stralman gets another chance to push for a championship in Tampa Bay or if he’ll continue his career elsewhere.

Stralman made $4.5 million this season, which made him the third-highest-paid defenseman on the roster behind Hedman ($7.875 million) and McDonagh ($4.7 million). The Lightning already has re-signed defenseman Jan Rutta, who could have been an unrestricted free agent, to a $1.3 million deal for one season. And defensemen Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn can be unrestricted free agents, which means the Lightning must make decisions about them, too.

Related: MORE LIGHTNING: Tyler Johnson still tailor made for Lightning

But the Lightning’s biggest cap predicament is posed by center Brayden Point, a 2018 All-Star, who is set to be a restricted free agent. His re-signing is a priority. Point made $686,667 this season and most likely make between $6 million and $8 million in his next contract.

Is Stralman’s experience enough to convince Lightning executives to give one of the eldest players on the roster — he turns 33 Aug. 1 — another go at the Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay?

His numbers this season say no, but his experience in the league says yes.

Yet, experience didn’t bring the Lightning anywhere close to winning the Cup this year.

Anton Strålman’s season

High: On Dec. 29, Adam Erne raced toward the net for a pass, but the puck was deflected and intercepted in open ice by the Canadiens. Montreal’s Tomas Tatar scooped up the puck, but when he passed it to Jeff Petry, it hit off the back of Petry’s left skate. Stralman picked up the puck and drove toward the net for the unassisted goal, which helped tie up the score at two apiece and propel the Lightning to an exciting 6-5 win at Amalie Arena.

Low: The lower-body injury he had coming out of the March 5 game against the Jets that cost him 16 of the last 18 regular-season games and all four playoff games against the Blue Jackets.

By the numbers

47 Games played this season, Stralman’s fewest since he played 38 in 2008-09 with the Maple Leafs

17 Points, his fewest since he had 13 in 81 games with the Rangers in 2013-14

57 Shots on goal; this was the first season in six years he didn’t have at least 100

Plus-12: Tied with Mikhail Sergachev for third highest among Lightning defensemen

Contact Mari Faiello at Follow @faiello_mari.