The streak is intact.
Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson and Marc Levine, agent for restricted free agent defenseman Anton Stralman, agreed to terms this morning on a one-year, $1.95 million contract. By coming to agreement prior to the early-morning hearing in Toronto, the two sides avoided an arbitration hearing.
Had they been unable to finalize a last-minute deal, Stralman would have become the first player in the 10-year history of the Blue Jackets to fully exercise his right to arbitration.
Thankfully for the Blue Jackets, Stralman’s salary still affords flexibility. Howson has been scouring for a legitimate NHL defenseman for parts of 10 months and the current blueline could use some re-structuring.
Many feared that Stralman would cash in via arbitration, potentially being awarded up to $3 million on a one-year contract. Had that been the case, common sense says the Blue Jackets would have walked away from the ruling–making Stralman an unrestricted free agent.
If you ask me, I think Stralman still has a lot of room to grow. At 23, he’s still physically immature and could bulk up his frame. He came to training camp last year at roughly 188 pounds and stayed at a steady weight for most of the season. Being a right-handed shooting defender, he has obvious value to a lefty-laden team like Columbus.
The Blue Jackets’ power play improved markedly with Stralman last season. Columbus owned the NHL’s worst power play efficiency in 2008-09 (and made the playoffs), and jumped to the top of that list early in 2009-10. His handedness opened lanes for one-timers and allowed him the chance to roam around the top of the key.
Howson was pointed in his comments to Columbus Dispatch reporter Aaron Portzline this morning. He conceded that while Stralman is important to the team’s man-advantage unit, he is relatively raw in his own end.
New coach Scott Arniel is expected to make significant changes to the power play, and with Stralman in the fold, he has another option.
Is Stralman a top-four defenseman? We’ll see. But the Blue Jackets defense corps is better with the skilled Swede than without him.
About the Author
Written by Rob Mixer
I am a former sports staff writer and assistant sports editor at The Post, Ohio University's student-run, daily newspaper. I live in Columbus and am a contributing writer to The Adovcate in Newark.